A Minneapolis policing referendum that is heading for an Election Day showdown took an unnecessary turn last week when the name of George Soros was used on the website of a pro-police/pro-reform group’s website.
Operation Safety Now, which has reported ties to a public relations effort to help Minneapolis’ police chief and the embattled Minneapolis Police Department, had named George Soros, a Jewish billionaire who is a prominent supporter of leftwing causes, on their website as a funder of an opposition group. Campaign finance documents showed that the donation came from the Open Society Policy Center, which was founded by Soros, but he is not listed as a board member or staff member of that organization.
While there is obviously some connection between Soros and the Open Society, it is also true that the name Soros has become a dog-whistle not just for those who are opposed to his progressive politics and policies, but also as a stand-in for the pervasive antisemitic trope of Jewish manipulation and control of a society’s politics and culture.
The Anti-Defamation League has warned that antisemitic tropes can be mainstreamed by “antisemites and extremists who disseminate these ideas knowingly and with malice.” Soros’ name has been invoked in politics for the last several years to a degree that outpaces his relative importance as a campaign contributor. During the heat of the 2018 midterm elections, Soros’ name was used by many Republican politicians both in Minnesota and nationwide — along with other prominent, wealthy Jews, who opposed the GOP agenda.
The Anti-Defamation League wrote at that time that, while:
A person who promotes a Soros conspiracy theory may not intend to promulgate antisemitism. But Soros’ Jewish identity is so well-known that in many cases it is hard not to infer that meaning. This is especially true when Soros-related conspiracy theories include other well-worn antisemitic tropes such as control of the media or banks; references to undermining societies or destabilizing countries; or language that hearkens back to the medieval blood libels and the characterization of Jews as evil, demonic, or agents of the antichrist.
Even if no antisemitic insinuation is intended, casting a Jewish individual as a puppet master who manipulates national events for malign purposes has the effect of mainstreaming antisemitic tropes and giving support, however unwitting, to bona fide antisemites and extremists who disseminate these ideas knowingly and with malice.
More recently, during the uprisings that occurred in Minneapolis and around the country in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the ADL detailed that nearly a half-million negative tweets mentioned the 90-year-old Soros by name, falsely alleging that he was paying protestors to riot and foment chaos.
“Although the vast majority of Soros-related conspiracy theories do not mention his Jewish heritage, the concern remains that they can serve as a gateway to the antisemitic subculture that blames Jews for the riots,” the ADL wrote in a blog post last year.
Campaign documents obtained by the Minnesota Reformer show that the Open Society Policy Center in Washington, D.C., donated to Yes 4 Minneapolis. In a statement, Yes 4 Minneapolis officials confirmed that the money didn’t come from Soros personally.
Soros founded the Open Society Foundation in 1979, and later the Open Society Policy Center as a 501c4 non-partisan public policy non-profit. The OSPC, on its website, says that it “engages in advocacy aimed at influencing public policy on domestic and international issues, including civil rights and liberties, criminal justice reform, immigration, public health policy, and the promotion of government accountability.”
The OPSC’s focus on these issues are among the reasons that George Soros has become a bogeyman for conservatives. Whether it’s a complaint based in fact or not, George Soros’ name has become a slur, and does more damage in perpetuating antisemitic stereotypes than many might realize.
What Is Operation Safety Now?
Operation Safety Now lists no individuals associated with the organization on its website, where it states that it is “nonpartisan – united as Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in our desire to wipe crime from our neighborhoods and restore competency to our City Council.” Up until last week, their website read that they “have no budget and no financial backing locally or from outsiders like George Soros, who recently gave $500,000 to groups pushing to abolish Minneapolis police.”
The website now reads: “This stands in contrast to the local police abolitionist group that received a $500,000 contribution from the Open Society Policy Center, as reported in the Star Tribune and Minnesota Reformer.” The change came after questions from TC Jewfolk, and tweets from Jewish Community Action Executive Director Carin Mrotz calling attention to it, as well as the candidates who, after being contacted by TC Jewfolk, asked that the website be changed.
“It was never a matter of the individual’s religion. It was more a matter of the individual’s named familiarity, that people would say, ‘Oh, I’ve heard of that individual,” Rodriguez said. “That was the rationale for putting a name specifically with it.”
Rodriguez said that as the controversy first started on Twitter, he consulted with a rabbi and Jewish community members associated with OSN and none told him it was an issue.
“They all said ‘no, Bill, you’re not being antisemitic, you’re basically just stating a fact,” Rodriguez said, citing a Jewish News Service column that stated it’s antisemitic to criticize Soros. “[The column said] it’s fair game to question where Mr. Soros’ contributions are going, and to list by name.”
A Minnesota Reformer article from last month detailed the ties between public relations professional and OSN co-founder Bill Rodriguez and MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo. Emails that were obtained by the Reformer via a public records request showed that both the MPD and Mayor Jacob Frey’s office collaborated with OSN in an effort to increase funding for the department and sway public opinion.
OSN’s website domain was purchased in early April, and the first available archive is from May 25. The group was founded as a response to groups like Yes 4 Minneapolis, which recently delivered 20,000 signatures to amend the Minneapolis charter that would replace the police department with a department of public safety, and put that department under the purview of the city council, rather than the mayor, who is in charge of the MPD.
With the upcoming Minneapolis Charter election, it was important to report on the use of Soros’ name in this manner by an organization that is tied to the leadership of the city of Minneapolis. It is a reminder that antisemitism like other forms of bias can be unintentional, but that once such bias is pointed out by trusted members of the impacted community it is important, as was eventually done here, to take corrective action. That part is good. But it was Mrotz’s first tweet about the issue on June 10 that brought the issue to the mainstream, and the quick and easy fix didn’t come until our editor’s conversation with Rodriguez and others affiliated with OSN eight days later. Corrective action came, but it took far too long once the concerns of antisemitism were brought to light.
This referendum presents a contentious issue for many in Minneapolis as Election Day approaches. Hopefully, this episode brings greater awareness and sensitivity to the damage that can be done by perpetuating antisemitic tropes, even if done unintentionally.