On May 24 the M1 evening news aired a fairly lengthy report on George Soros. Such stories are everyday occurrences in the government controlled media nowadays. But what made this particular report noteworthy was that it was the first time Soros was identified as being Jewish. Earlier, he was simply called an “American speculator” who uses his ill-gotten money in support of liberal causes and who meddles in the internal affairs of countries through his Open Society Foundations.
Many observers suspected an anti-Semitic tinge to the word “speculator,” which is considered to be a loaded word in Hungarian public discourse. But one could still argue about the intended meaning of the word, as commentators actually did. After May 24, however, I think the question has been settled. Soros was described as an “evil multibillionaire Zionist-American.” The inspiration for this description came from, of all unlikely sources, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran.
444.hu’s eagle-eyed journalists tracked the reference to Khamenei’s blog. Near the end of a very long speech delivered to the graduating class of Imam Hussein University, the Supreme Leader announced that “a wealthy, vicious Zionist from America once said that he had managed to turn Georgia upside down with only 10 million dollars! In the year of 1388 (2009) he thought of doing the same thing to the Islamic Republic.” Here Khamenei was referring to the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which was by all accounts rigged. Demonstrations, arrests, and mass trials followed, resulting in the deaths of at least 36 people. Iran’s establishment concluded that foreigners had orchestrated the post-election events. Khamenei, by the way, didn’t mention Soros’s name.
Using a very lightly edited description of Soros by a well-known anti-Semitic ayatollah was too much for the democratic media and public, including the leadership of Mazsihisz, the Association of Jewish Religious Communities of Hungary. They decided to publish a statement with MTI, the official news service which is supposed to publish announcements of parties, associations, and other public organizations. Mazsihisz was planning to publish the following statement:
We are deeply concerned about the newscast on public television on Wednesday, which quoted as a creditable source the well-known anti-Semitic Iranian ayatollah. Ali Khamenei’s description of George Soros as “an evil, multibillionaire Zionist American” was repeated without comment. This type of word usage can be found only in Hungarian media on the extreme right. It is outrageous that this kind of anti-Semitic talk is tolerated on the public television station.
The Hungarian Basic Law protects freedom of conscience, speech, and religion. In our opinion it is no sin to be a Jew or a Zionist. In a few months, the Israeli prime minister will visit the birthplace of the father of political Zionism, Budapest. We find it important that the Media Service and Asset Management Fund (MTVA) adhere to the principle of zero tolerance against anti-Semitism declared by the Hungarian government.
And we expect the Hungarian government to demand compliance with the constitutional principles from the media it oversees.
The statement was sent to MTI, which refused to publish it because one of the rules governing the publication of outside materials states that the news agency is not obliged to publish “a piece of communication which damages the credibility of the state media and its business interests.” Since Mazsihisz’s statement contained criticism of a public media organization, i.e. Magyar Televízió (MTV), MTI was within its right to refuse publication.
Of course, Mazsihisz’s statement and MTI’s refusal to publish it didn’t remain a secret. Several English-language publications have already picked up the story, and I’m certain that they will be followed by many more in the coming days.
Meanwhile, one of the Budapest rabbis, Zoltán Radnóti, wrote an article in HVG in which, besides condemning the state television’s adoption of accusations by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pointed out that the historical knowledge of journalists in the pay of the Orbán media machinery leaves a great deal to be desired. They claimed in the program that George Soros actually succeeded in unseating Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009 which, of course, is not true. Radnóti also pointed out that the Orbán government has been very concerned about the fate of Christians in the Middle East of late. In fact, Péter Szijjártó talked about the anti-Christian attacks in Egypt and elsewhere in the same newscast. Yet, a few minutes later the journalists approvingly quoted the leader of a country where Christianity is banned and its followers persecuted.
The Orbán propaganda machine must always have the last word, and this case was no exception. Híradó, which is the “official” last word on all news, published an article with the following title: “The online media lied again about one of the news items of M1.” What follows is a close to incomprehensible few sentences, the upshot of which is that M1 didn’t quote the ayatollah himself but found the quotation in a New York Times article. “M1 simply used The New York Times as a source.” Moreover, Híradó adds, M1’s journalists were so conscientious that they actually checked the original source which the Times gave. So, the original sin belonged to The New York Times, which figured that Khamenei must have been talking about George Soros. Let me quote what the paper had to say on the subject. “‘An evil American and rich Zionist said that he managed to turn everything upside down in Georgia with $10 million,’ Ayatollah Khamenei said, referring to Mr. Soros and his alleged role in the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia. ‘In 2009, he was foolish enough to try to affect the Islamic republic, but he slammed against a strong wall of national will and determination,’ Ayatollah Khamenei said. ‘It is the same today.’ Mr. Soros’s representatives did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.”
As for the mistake the journalists of M1 made about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Híradó decided to ignore it. It wrote: “The Iranian ayatollah was also convinced that George Soros’s organizations were responsible for the fall of the former Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” Somebody has to learn to read.