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Jewish World

TIBOR KRAUSZ

Gunning for George


A prestigious university in Budapest falls victim to the Hungarian
governments vendetta against the Jewish billionaire
By Tibor Krausz, Budapest

26 THE JERUSALEM REPORT MAY 1, 2017


THE CENTRAL European University in ministers and diplomats.
Budapest is Hungarys top-ranked institu- CEU is not just any university in Buda-
tion of higher education and home to some pest, stresses Shlomo Avineri, a prominent
1,500 students and hundreds of lecturers Israeli historian and political scientist who
from 116 nations in its various graduate is a recurring visiting professor at CEU.
and postgraduate programs, Jewish Studies Its a pluralistic institution with interna-
among them. tional standards and an atmosphere of tol-
Occupying a smattering of three lavishly erance, diversity and openness, he tells
equipped Habsburg-era and two ultra-mod- The Jerusalem Report. Hungary should be
ern buildings, the university boasts ideal proud of it.
settings in the very heart of Hungarys pic- But Hungarys right-wing government
turesque capital. On one side, within a few isnt proud of it. It wants the university gone
hundred meters, lies the citys famed Chain along with its vaunted tolerance, diversity
Bridge over the Danube. On the other, the and openness.
magnificent St. Stephens Basilica looms The prestigious university may seem like
large with its towering spires. Within easy an unlikely site for a political battle ground.
walking distance are Budapests historic Yet, it has just become a new proxy in an
Great Synagogue with its onion domes and ideological tug of war between Soros and
Hungarys gaudy neo-Gothic Parliament the countrys pugnacious, erratic Prime
House. Minister Viktor Orbn, whose government
The university was founded by Buda- promptly and without warning amended
pest-born Jewish-American billionaire the countrys higher education act in early
philanthropist George Soros in 1991 with April to effectively outlaw CEU, which it
the aim of inculcating liberal democratic derisively calls the Soros University.
values in young people across Central-East- The new legislation forces the bination-

Soros
ern Europe after the fall of communism, al institution, which is accredited in New
in which Hungary played a pivotal role in York but has a campus only in Budapest,
1989. Thanks to an endowment of nearly to stop enrolling new students from Jan-
$900 million from Soros, CEU has long uary 1, 2018, and to close down by 2021,
been the countrys best-financed academic unless Hungary and the US can agree on
institution and now operates independently new terms for the university. The law is set
of the Jewish billionaire. to be followed by similar legislative leg-
Over the years CEU has offered scholar- erdemain aimed at crippling civil society
ships to thousands of students from Hunga- groups funded by the Jewish billionaire or
ry and around the world, including Israel sweeping them out, in the words of one of
and the Palestinian territories. Among its Orbns deputies.
alumni are intellectuals, artists, government Speaking on public radio last March, Or-
bn sounded a nativist tone and accused the
Students bear a banner that says CEU Budapest-based university of cheating by
now, but whos next? during a protest offering degrees that are accepted both in
againstthe Hungarian governments plan Hungary and the US unlike degrees issued
to shut downa local university founded by other Hungarian universities that are
by George Soros only accepted locally. Its inexplicable,

THE JERUSALEM REPORT MAY 1, 2017 27


Jewish World

he griped, why we should place our own in Hungary, where lurid phantasmagorias lion, and one of its most prominent philan-
universities at a disadvantage by allowing about the endless machinations of foreign thropists.
a foreign university to enjoy an unfair Jewish financiers are commonplace. Once His Open Society Foundations, which has
advantage. these alleged manipulators were claimed to a budget of $1 billion and has over the years
Yet, it clearly isnt that unfair advantage belong to the Rothschild banking dynasty, given away $12 billion to various causes in
that vexes Orbn. It makes no difference now they are seen to be embodied by Soros. more 100 countries, has benefitted millions
if someone is a billionaire in Hungary, he of people worldwide, including Hungarys
elucidated, in a jibe at the New York-based The greatest prime minister. In 1989, when he was still
Jewish financier. This university also has an up-and-coming young liberal politician
to respect the laws, Orbn said, referring to value of CEU is its with strong anti-Russian leanings, Orbn
received a scholarship from the Jewish bil-
laws that did not yet exist at the time be-
cause his partys proposed new legislation
independence. Its one lionaire to study at Englands Oxford Uni-
had yet to be passed in Parliament. of the last bastions of versity. Several members of his inner circle
In an interview with a right-wing online also enjoyed Soross munificence back in
publication last December, Orbn dispelled free thinking in Hungary their student days.
any doubt about his true motivation. The Today, the onetime beneficiary of Soross
coming year, he warned ominously, will largesse is hardly a poster boy for the values
be about the exclusion of Soros and the forc- that the billionaire seeks to foster through
es he represents [from Hungarian society]. [This law against CEU] is a covert form his foundations whose ideals were inspired
of antisemitism, Attila Mesterhzy, an op- by the Austrian thinker Karl Poppers
SHORTLY THEREAFTER, when the Eu- position lawmaker, stressed. When Orbn work of political philosophy, The Open
ropean Court of Human Rights ruled that and members of his Fidesz-Hungarian Civ- Society and its Enemies. Orbn is now a
the Hungarian government had illegally de- ic Alliance party keep harping on about self-avowed enemy of the very idea of a
tained two asylum seekers from Bangladesh George Soros, surely, [his Jewishness] is on Western European-style open society.
in 2015 at the height of the migrant crisis that their minds. The politician, whose right-wing coali-
was engulfing the country, Hungarys prime Its also on the minds of numerous other tion enjoys a seemingly unassailable par-
minister predictably lashed out at Soros. Hungarians. Thanks to his high-profile phil- liamentary majority that allows it to pass
Orbn has taken a hard-line stance against anthropic work with a decidedly left-wing laws at will, has pledged to create an il-
all migration into Europe, while several lo- political slant, Soros has become a handy liberal state modelled on his ally Vladi-
cally based nonprofits funded by Soross stand-in for the fictive Bond villain-like mir Putins stranglehold on Russia. He has
Open Society Foundations have been openly Jewish banker of fevered conspiracy myths. done much to undermine the rule of law in
campaigning on behalf of migrants from the His larger-than-life rags-to-riches life story Hungary and eliminate nascent democratic
Middle East, South Asia and Africa. has added to his aura of preternatural perfi- checks and balances, partly by rewriting the
It is a collusion of human traffickers, dy in the eyes of his countless detractors in constitution.
Brussels bureaucrats and the organizations Hungary and elsewhere. Nor does Orbn, one of whose advisers
that work in Hungary financed by foreign Born Gyrgy Schwartz in 1930 to a well- is the Jewish-American conservative polit-
money, insisted Orbn, echoing a com- to-do family of assimilated Jews, Soros ical consultant Arthur J. Finkelstein, hide
monly held view in Hungary that attributes survived the Holocaust in Budapest as a his nativist and autocratic tendencies. His
Europes migrant crisis to a shadowy glob- teenager with fake documents. By his own government has been relentlessly pushing
al conspiracy overseen by rich, scheming admission, as part of his wartime cover So- a revisionist view of history, which is now
Jewish bankers pulling the strings from be- ros, then 14, helped a local fascist catalogue taught in state-run schools. It portrays Hun-
hind the scenes. Lets call a spade a spade: confiscated Jewish property during Hungar- gary, a staunch wartime ally of Nazi Ger-
George Soros finances them. ian Jewrys mass deportation to Auschwitz many, as the hapless victim of first German
In case anyone missed his point then, the (a fact that has opened Soros up to charges aggression, then Soviet occupation there-
politician reiterated his claims in another di- that he was a Nazi collaborator, which he by absolving Hungarians of responsibility
atribe a few weeks later. Lets not underes- wasnt). He emigrated to London, where he for the fate of their country and the death of
timate George Soros, Orbn huffed. Hes studied philosophy, and after several false 600,000 Hungarian Jews in the Holocaust.
an all-powerful and unscrupulous billion- starts in banking he set up a hedge fund. Hungarians have still not come to terms
aire who knows neither God nor man when He turned to currency speculation, earning with their 20th-century history, says Mi-
it comes to his interests. $1 billion in a single day in 1992 in a high- chael L. Miller, a Jewish-American aca-
Such scapegoating and conspiracy mon- stakes gamble against the Bank of England. demic who specializes in Central European
gering, which ascribe an outsize ability to He then worked his way up in the world of Jewish history and teaches at CEUs Na-
Soros to influence global geopolitical de- high finance in New York to become one of tionalism Studies and Jewish Studies pro-
velopments, has found a receptive audience the worlds richest men, now worth $25 bil- grams. In the eyes of Hungarians, it was

28 THE JERUSALEM REPORT MAY 1, 2017


Jewish-American billionaire George Soros
funds worldwide endeavors that promote
liberalism, democracy, openness and
human rights

university had an Israeli rector: the late


Hungarian-born Jewish historian Yehuda
Elkana, who survived Auschwitz as a child.
The universitys Nationalism and Jewish
Studies programs headline Israeli scholars
such as Avineri, a professor of political sci-
ence at Hebrew University who served as
the director general of Israels Foreign Min-
istry in the government of Yitzhak Rabin
LUKE MACGREGOR / REUTERS

in the mid-1970s. At the Budapest-based


institution, Avineri teaches courses on mod-
ern Jewish history, Zionism and the Middle
East conflict.
The Israeli professor has joined hundreds
of prominent academics and intellectuals
from around the world, many of them Jew-
ish, who have lambasted Hungarys gov-
communism that was the centurys greatest phon off Hungarys mineral water resources ernment over its targeted new legislation
crime, he explains. In the eyes of Jews, it into the Jewish state. According to another, against CEU. Over the years weve got the
was Nazism and Hungarian fascism. Israelis are snatching up real estate in Bu- best academic minds in Central Europe,
Meanwhile, in the style of jumped-up dapest in order to drive ethnic Magyars out says Avineri, 84, whose mother was born in
tinpot despots, Orbn has been enriching and repopulate the city with Jews. Hungary. The university has played a vital
his friends and relatives through lucrative role in the democratization of Central and
government contacts and has entrenched A POPULAR anti-Soros calumny in his Eastern Europe after decades of fascist and
his cronies in key political, financial and ju- native land spouted in nationalist media, communist oppression.
dicial positions. Hes now declared war on on comment threads and over dinner tables Now both that process of democratiza-
Soros, whom he sees as standing in his way has it that Soros seeks to undermine Hun- tion and the universitys future are at risk
by funding dissenting voices. I dont think gary in the interests of Israel, partly through in Hungary. Orbn appears to see a kin-
Orbn is antisemitic, but many of his sup- the university he founded. dred spirit in US President Donald Trump,
porters are, Miller tells The Report. Or- This is a silly idea. If anyone is an- whom Soros, a staunch Democrat, has de-
bn isnt going after Soros because hes a ti-Zionistic, its Soros, observes Andrs cried as an impostor and a conman and a
Jew but because hes a billionaire financier Kovcs, a professor of sociology at CEU would-be dictator. The Jewish billionaire
who is trying to influence politics through who is an expert on antisemitism in Hunga- has been funding several high-profile ini-
his philanthropy. ry. But he embodies certain values liber- tiatives, from vocal gay rights groups to
Yet, the fact that Soros is Jewish feeds alism, democracy, openness, human rights, pro-immigrant advocacy projects to Black
into prevalent antisemitic tropes about he explains. That has made him the target Lives Matter, to counter the hateful acts
Jewish bankers, Miller says. Orbn is a of a propaganda campaign in right-wing of Trumps political agenda.
populist who appeals to the worst instincts circles. With Trump in the White House, Orbn
of Hungarians. Hes found a convenient bo- Soross foundations have donated mil- clearly saw a golden opportunity to elimi-
geyman in Soros and in CEU hes found an lions of dollars to advocacy groups, both in- nate Soross influence from Hungary once
easy target to get back at Soros. side and outside Israel, that openly advocate and for all. Both Orbn and Szilrd Nmeth,
Or make those Jewish bankers scheming against the Jewish state and even question a deputy leader of his ruling Fidesz party,
Zionists, if you will. Cockamamie home- its legitimacy often in the guise of cam- have publicly said as much. The latter has
grown conspiracy theories about the global paigning for Palestinian rights. The Jew- called for all Soros-financed projects in
Zionist mafia continue metastasizing into ish philanthropists funding of such groups Hungary to be repressed by all means,
ever more bizarre allegations. According to has earned him plenty of enemies among explaining that they must be culled alto-
one fantastical conspiracy theory currently pro-Israel Jews. gether. I think there is an international op-
making the rounds in Hungary, Israelis are Yet, CEU has hardly been an anti-Isra- portunity to do that now.
clandestinely drilling artesian wells to si- el institution. For a decade until 2009, the Hungarys ruling party may have misread

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the USs political landscape, however. The


American Embassy in Budapest has issued
a strongly worded statement against the
Hungarian governments attempt to curtail
academic freedom by shutting down CEU.
The State Department and several US sena-
tors have followed suit.
So have several prominent Western Euro-
pean politicians, including German Chan-
cellor Angela Merkel. Europe, insisted
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier
in his address to the European Parliament
in Strasbourg, France, must not be silent
when civil society and even academia as the
Central European University in Budapest

LUKE MACGREGOR / REUTERS


are deprived of the air to breathe.

THE HUNGARIAN governments response


came courtesy of its petulantly obtuse
spokesman Zoltn Kovcs. George Soross
lies mislead even the German government,
he huffed. In the 1990s Kovcs himself stud-
ied at CEU on a scholarship funded by So- set of the countrys ruling party, which Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbn
ros, but brazen hypocrisy is routine among accuses what it calls the Soros empire has spearheaded efforts to outlaw the
Hungarian government politicians who are of seeking to undermine it, a state-run tele- Central European University, which he
driven not by principles or even common de- vision station theorized, without offering sees as disseminating critical voices
cency but by sheer self-interest. any evidence, that Soros bussed in thou- against his government
In an open letter to Orbn, Gyrgy Kon- sands of foreigners from abroad to stage the
rd, a prominent Jewish-Hungarian nov- anti-government protests.
elist and Holocaust survivor, has likened gary, he adds. With CEU, the regime now
the governments orchestrated campaign Orbn isnt going after wants to shut down one of the last indepen-
against Soros to anti-Jewish Nazi propagan- dent places for free thinking.
da. [I]n the interest of holding on to power, Soros because hes a This state of affairs has appalled Daniel T.
youve availed yourself of large doses of
shrewd antisemitic innuendo by targeting
Jew but because hes Berg, a student at CEUs School of Public
Policy. Bergs mother escaped communist
a man who has done more for Hungarian a billionaire financier Hungary in 1977 by crossing into Austria
youth ... than you and your circle of friends hidden inside the truck of a Trabant, an East
put together, Konrd seethed. who is trying to German jalopy with a two-stroke engine
Tens of thousands of Hungarian academics, mounted inside a hard-plastic body. Berg,
intellectuals, teachers and students have like- influence politics who was born in New York, returned to
wise been crying foul over the governments Hungary last year to study at the university.
heavy-handed attack on CEU and Soros. A But its no longer the kind of Hungary he
series of mass demonstrations in support of Unfazed by the attacks on him, the Jewish thought he would find.
the university has drawn well over 100,000 billionaire has pledged to keep CEU in Bu- I came home because I love Hungary,
people in the Hungarian capital, calling dapest. For that, he has the support of much Berg said at a protest outside the university
for CEU to stay and Orbn to go. On a re- of the countrys intellectual elite, which the same day the anti-CEU law passed in
cent Sunday, in the largest anti-government sees the university as a vital part of Hunga- Parliament in early April. Today [because
demonstration in more than a decade, some rys academic scene. The greatest value of of this] law that is a death sentence to my
80,000 people took to the capitals streets in CEU is its independence. Its one of the last university, I felt that I might have been mis-
support of the beleaguered institution. They bastions of free thinking in Hungary, says taken in coming home.
held signs and chanted slogans in defense of Istvn Fldes, a Jewish-Hungarian physicist He added, This isnt just about the future
free speech and academic freedom, both of at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences who of one university. This is about the future
which are under threat in Hungary. participated in the protest march. There is of Hungarian youth and about the future of
Echoing the conspiracy-merchant mind- no more [state-owned] free media in Hun- Hungary itself.

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