Backlash to Trump claim that Soros paid anti-Kavanaugh protesters

Backlash to Trump claim that Soros paid anti-Kavanaugh protesters

Liberals accuse the president of peddling anti-Semitic tropes, while the Washington Post says the allegation is just plain untrue

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a "Make America Great Again" rally at Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi, on October 2, 2018. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a "Make America Great Again" rally at Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi, on October 2, 2018. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s claim on Friday that demonstrators against his beleaguered Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh were paid by Jewish billionaire investor and liberal donor George Soros sparked immediate backlash, with some accusing the president of spreading an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory and a major American newspaper calling out his statement as flagrantly untrue.

“On the surface, Trump’s tweeting of a Soros conspiracy theory acts to explain-away opposition to Kavanaugh. But beneath that veneer, those conspiracy theories trace back to longstanding anti-Semitic tropes,” tweeted Right Wing Watch, a liberal advocacy group in the US.

Longtime Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who is Jewish, said the statement itself was anti-Semitic, but stopped short of calling Trump a Jew-hater.

“If it was anyone else, this would seem to be base anti-Semitism,” he wrote. “One might think Trump is appealing to a similar mob. But the president is clearly no anti-Semite.” Cohen concluded the remarks were “not anti-Semitism by intent,” but amounted to anti-Semitism nonetheless.

As the Senate geared up to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, the president tweeted that “very rude elevator screamers” who confronted Arizona Senator Jeff Flake were bought by professionals to make senators look bad. “Paid for by Soros and others,” he said.

Last week, a group of sexual assault victims verbally assailed Flake in an elevator over his vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination. Videos of the exchange went viral and all week demonstrators have been targeting swing senators who are on the fence.

George Soros, founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundation, waits for the start of a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on April 27, 2017. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)

Soros, a Hungary-born Holocaust survivor, is a donor to the Democrats and other liberal causes in the United States, Europe and Israel. The Jewish billionaire is frequently described by arch-conservatives as a behind-the-scenes operator driving liberal and progressive movements — criticisms that have prompted counter-accusations of anti-Semitism.

Trump’s reference to Soros, who has supported pro-democracy movements around the world and the US Democratic Party for years, appeared aimed at rallying more support for Kavanaugh and inciting anger from the president’s conservative Christian base.

During his presidential campaign in 2016, Trump ran an ad that criticized “those who control the levers of power in Washington” and “global special interests.” Over those words were images of Soros and the then-Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen, who also is Jewish.

Max Boot, a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, said Trump’s attempt to ascribe fault on Soros, an identifiable Jew, was historically how despotic rulers acted.

Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley was asked by a Fox Business anchor earlier in the day if he thought Trump’s statement was accurate. “I have heard so many people believe that. I tend to believe it,” Grassley said.

David Leonhardt, a New York Times columnist, tweeted a link to that clip and accused the senator of also propagating anti-Semitism.

“Let’s be clear here: Charles Grassley is a United States Senator,” Leonhardt said. “He is responsible for his words. And his words here amount to an anti-Semitic smear.”

Meanwhile, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog found Trump’s claim to be untrue, granting it three Pinnochios.

While noting that the Open Society Foundation, which Soros bankrolls, has supported the Center for Popular Democracy, which had activists protesting Kavanaugh’s nomination on Capitol Hill, The Post said that was not tantamount to Soros buying protesters.

“There is some, indirect money from Soros associated with the groups that confronted senators in elevators, but it is wrong to claim the protesters were paid by Soros or directed by him,” the article said.

On Friday, key senators announced they would vote for Kavanaugh on Saturday, all but securing his confirmation.

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