Jewish World


Gunning for George
A prestigious university in Budapest falls victim to the Hungarian
government’s vendetta against the Jewish billionaire
By Tibor Krausz, Budapest

THE CENTRAL European University in ministers and diplomats.
Budapest is Hungary’s 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 “It’s 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 Hungary’s pic- But Hungary’s right-wing government
turesque capital. On one side, within a few isn’t proud of it. It wants the university gone
hundred meters, lies the city’s famed Chain – along with its vaunted tolerance, diversity
Bridge over the Danube. On the other, the and openness.
magnificent St. Stephen’s 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 Budapest’s 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
Hungary’s gaudy neo-Gothic Parliament the country’s pugnacious, erratic Prime
House. Minister Viktor Orbán, whose government
The university was founded by Buda- promptly and without warning amended
pest-born Jewish-American billionaire the country’s 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-

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 country’s 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 Orbán’s deputies.
alumni are intellectuals, artists, government Speaking on public radio last March, Or-
bán sounded a nativist tone and accused the
Students bear a banner that says ‘CEU Budapest-based university of “cheating” by
now, but who’s next?’ during a protest offering degrees that are accepted both in
against the Hungarian government’s plan Hungary and the US – unlike degrees issued
to shut down a local university founded by other Hungarian universities that are
by George Soros only accepted locally. “It’s inexplicable,”

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 isn’t that “unfair advantage” belong to the Rothschild banking dynasty, given away $12 billion to various causes in
that vexes Orbán. “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 Hungary’s
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,” Orbán said, referring to value of CEU is its with strong anti-Russian leanings, Orbán
received a scholarship from the Jewish bil-
“laws” that did not yet exist at the time be-
cause his party’s proposed new legislation
independence. It’s one lionaire to study at England’s 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 Soros’s munificence back in
publication last December, Orbán dispelled free thinking in Hungary their student days.
any doubt about his true motivation. “The Today, the onetime beneficiary of Soros’s
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 Mesterházy, an op- by the Austrian thinker Karl Popper’s
SHORTLY THEREAFTER, when the Eu- position lawmaker, stressed. When Orbán work of political philosophy, “The Open
ropean Court of Human Rights ruled that and members of his Fidesz-Hungarian Civ- Society and its Enemies.” Orbán 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, Hungary’s prime It’s 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
Orbán 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 Soros’s stand-in for the fictive Bond villain-like mir Putin’s 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 Orbán, one of whose advisers
that work in Hungary financed by foreign Born György Schwartz in 1930 to a well- is the Jewish-American conservative polit-
money,” insisted Orbán, 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
Europe’s 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. “Let’s call a spade a spade: confiscated Jewish property during Hungar- gary, a staunch wartime ally of Nazi Ger-
George Soros finances them.” ian Jewry’s 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. “Let’s not underes- wasn’t). He emigrated to London, where he for the fate of their country and the death of
timate George Soros,” Orbán huffed. “He’s 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 CEU’s 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 world’s richest men, now worth $25 bil- grams. “In the eyes of Hungarians, it was

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 university’s 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 Israel’s Foreign Min-
istry in the government of Yitzhak Rabin

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 Hungary’s gov-
communism that was the century’s greatest phon off Hungary’s 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 we’ve 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, Orbán 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. He’s 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 university’s future are at risk
by funding dissenting voices. “I don’t think gary in the interests of Israel, partly through in Hungary. Orbán appears to see a kin-
Orbán 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-
bán isn’t going after Soros because he’s a ti-Zionistic, it’s Soros,” observes András cried as “an impostor and a conman and a
Jew but because he’s a billionaire financier Kovács, 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. “Orbán is a of a propaganda campaign in right-wing of Trump’s political agenda.
populist who appeals to the worst instincts circles.” With Trump in the White House, Orbán
of Hungarians. He’s found a convenient bo- Soros’s foundations have donated mil- clearly saw a golden opportunity to elimi-
geyman in Soros and in CEU he’s found an lions of dollars to advocacy groups, both in- nate Soros’s influence from Hungary once
easy target to get back at Soros.” side and outside Israel, that openly advocate and for all. Both Orbán and Szilárd Németh,
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 philanthropist’s 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 Hungary’s ruling party may have misread

Jewish World

the US’s political landscape, however. The
American Embassy in Budapest has issued
a strongly worded statement against the
Hungarian government’s 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

are deprived of the air to breathe.”

THE HUNGARIAN government’s response
came courtesy of its petulantly obtuse
spokesman Zoltán Kovács. “George Soros’s
lies mislead even the German government,”
he huffed. In the 1990s Kovács himself stud-
ied at CEU on a scholarship funded by So- set of the country’s ruling party, which Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán
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 Orbán, György Kon- sands of foreigners from abroad to stage the
rád, a prominent Jewish-Hungarian nov- anti-government protests.
elist and Holocaust survivor, has likened gary,” he adds. “With CEU, the regime now
the government’s orchestrated campaign Orbán isn’t 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 he’s a This state of affairs has appalled Daniel T.
you’ve availed yourself of large doses of
shrewd antisemitic innuendo” by targeting
Jew but because he’s Berg, a student at CEU’s School of Public
Policy. Berg’s 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,” Konrád 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 government’s Hungary last year to study at the university.
heavy-handed attack on CEU and Soros. A But it’s 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 Orbán to go. On a re- of the country’s 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 ry’s academic scene. “The greatest value of of this] law that is a death sentence to my
80,000 people took to the capital’s streets in CEU is its independence. It’s 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 István Földes, a Jewish-Hungarian physicist He added, “This isn’t 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.” 