PragerU And Their Antisemitic Propaganda

(CW: lots and lots of antisemitism)

Maybe you haven’t heard of Dennis Prager. He’s one of those recurring fixtures on the right, a radio host and author. His media career started off with his collaboration with Joseph Telushkin; they co-wrote the book The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism:

In 1982, KABC (AM) in Los Angeles hired Prager to host a talk show on religion every Sunday night. Prager hosted the show for more than ten years. He and Telushkin published another book in 1983, Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism.[2] Later that year, Prager became the Monday-Thursday talk show host for KABC, but he refused to work on Friday night, the beginning of Shabbat. He also wrote a syndicated column for newspapers across the country. In 1985, Prager launched his own quarterly journal, Ultimate Issues, which was renamed to Prager Perspectives in 1996.

He brought his presence online in 2009, launching PragerU:

In 2009, Prager started a website, Prager University, which offers five-minute videos on various subjects, such as the Ten Commandments, the minimum wage, the Middle East, Global warming, and happiness, from a conservative perspective.[4][5]According to Prager, he created the site to challenge the “unhealthy effect intellectually and morally” of the American higher education system.

When you visit PragerU’s website, you can see that they host a collection of videos, freely available. They also have a social media presence. Some of the media they share is made by PragerU and other things are from fellow travelers, like Turning Point USA.

That brings me to the video their site is hosting today :

This video gives the impression that George Soros was helping the Nazis.

George Soros was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1930. His parents were well-off and nonobservant Jews. His father had been a prisoner of war during World War 1.

In 1936, the family changed their name in response to rising antisemitism in Hungary, from Schwartz to Soros. In 1944, Nazi Germany occupied Hungary.

Soros was 13 years old in March 1944 when Nazi Germany occupied Hungary.[31] Jewish children were barred from attending school by the Nazis, and Soros and the other schoolchildren were made to report to the Judenrat (“Jewish Council”) which had been established during the occupation. Soros later described this time to writer Michael Lewis: “The Jewish Council asked the little kids to hand out the deportation notices. I was told to go to the Jewish Council. And there I was given these small slips of paper…. I took this piece of paper to my father. He instantly recognized it. This was a list of Hungarian Jewish lawyers. He said, “You deliver the slips of paper and tell the people that if they report they will be deported.”
Soros did not return to that job; his family purchased documents to say that they were Christians, thereby allowing them to survive the war. Later that year at age 14, Soros posed as the Christian godson of an official of the collaborationist Hungarian government’s Ministry of Agriculture, who himself had a Jewish wife in hiding. On one occasion, rather than leave the 14 year old alone, the official took Soros with him while he inventoried a rich Jewish family’s estate, though Soros did not take part. Tivadar not only saved his immediate family but also many other Hungarian Jews, and George would later write that 1944 had been “the happiest [year] of his life,” for it had given him the opportunity to witness his father’s heroism.”

This is the transcript of the video shared by PragerU. It is an interview with Soros:

“You’re a Hungarian Jew, who escaped the Holocaust by posing as a Christian,
Right,
And you watched lots of people get shipped off to the death camps,
Right, I was 14 years old and I would say that’s when my character was made
In what way?
That one should think ahead, one should understand and anticipate events and when one is threatened, it was a tremendous threat of evil, I mean it was a very personal experience of evil
My understanding is that you went out with this protector of yours who swore that you were his adopted godson,
Yes, yes,
Went out in fact and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews
That’s right, yes
That sounds like an experience that would send lots of people to the psychiatric couch for many, many years. Was it difficult?
Not at all, not at all, maybe as a child you don’t see the connection but it created no problem at all.
No feeling of guilt. For example, I’m Jewish and here I am watching these people go I could just as easily be there I should be there. None of that?
Well of course I could be on the other side, I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away but there was no sense that I shouldn’t be there, that was, well actually, funny way, it’s just like in markets that if I weren’t there, if I wasn’t doing it, somebody else would be taking it anyhow, and it was whether I was there or not, I was only a spectator. The property was being taken away so I had no choice in taking away that property. So I had no sense of guilt.”

A word for what Soros may be describing is disassociation.

“Even when very young, our psyche can separate part of itself from the traumatic event as it is occurring and can seal itself off in a necessary disassociation. When a trauma is happening, the psyche uses its built-in system to protect the seed/the essence at the core of our being. That essence escapes the violation — the beating, the horrific scene that ought not to be viewed, even years of neglect — while other parts of the psyche go on experiencing the trauma. Like many things that happen naturally, however, what was at one time helpful and preservative, can, if it is held in place too long, start to create its own problems.”

There is no doubt that Soros was deeply affected by these experiences. His philanthropy and international activism on behalf of refugees is the legacy of his experience with the Nazis. In fact, the government of Hungary has recently launched a propaganda campaign against him because he has been so critical of their refugee policy:

“The government campaign casts Budapest-born Mr Soros, a critic of the country’s hardline refugee policies, as an advocate of mass illegal immigration. It features an enormous black and white picture of the 86-year-old Holocaust survivor and urges Hungarians not to let him “have the last laugh”. Critics say the posters evoke lurid anti-Semitic imagery of the 1930s that portrayed Jews as political manipulators. Hungary’s largest Jewish group this week demanded the Fidesz-led government “immediately shut down” the state-funded campaign.”

Now, the video they show is actually an excerpt from a longer interview. It aired in 1998 from 60 Minutes. It isn’t openly antisemitic itself, although it is weird that someone would ask George to expound upon whether or not he should be dead. How would anyone answer such a question?

The problem now is how that content is being deployed by right wing entities on social media. As I said, this clip is a video from Turning Point USA. This is how they introduce it:

WHOA! Leftist Billionaire Activist George Soros Admits His Disgusting, Dark Past!

This is how PragerU introduces it:

George Soros admits he felt no guilt for helping the Nazis confiscate the property of Jews during the Holocaust

What they are doing is actually a kind of victim blaming. Soros is undoubtedly a victim. He was a boy when the Nazis invaded his home and he was fortunate that his parents were able to figure out a way to save themselves. And according to published memoirs, his father also saved other members of the Jewish community. That was his experience: seeing death and horror all around and remembering his father as a beacon of hope and valor. He was a child being rescued and having to hide his identity. It is simply bizarre to expect him to beat himself up about the circumstances of his own survival. Survivor’s remorse is a real feeling, but remorseful survivors do not have more right to their lives or their feelings than those who do not carry guilt over their own luck. There is no point in trying to moralize how people digest trauma.

But that is not all. There’s something even more disturbing about doing this to George Soros. The Holocaust is one of the defining events of the 20th century. We experience it today in film and books, tv shows and the memories of survivors. There are only a few survivors left today. What happens when we begin second guessing their choices?

The comments from PragerU’s audience show some disturbing directions.

Notice the repetition; “Satan”, “Rothschild”, soulless, psychopath. Facebook lends its real estate to reams and reams of antisemitic comments. The language is dehumanizing, just as it was when the Nazis used it in the 1930s.

“These who are fighting against the Jews 
are struggling with the Devil!
(Julius Streicher).”

http://research.calvin.edu/german-propaganda-archive/story18.htm

When you visit PragerU’s site, you will notice a section dedicated “For Educators” under “PragerFORCE”.

There you can read testimonials from public school teachers recruited to bring PragerU’s content into the classroom.

I am a public school teacher who works in a district outside of Cleveland…I do believe these videos speak to the young and old alike, and I have found them to be well-crafted and very thought provoking.”

I want to again emphasize that PragerU did not actually make this video and have not explicitly said “George Soros was a Nazi.” The point I’m trying to make is that they did not have to: all they did was provide an edited interview with an introduction that implies he did something wrong.

Their followers and fans did the rest and unleashed their hateful opinions, which happen to look a lot like our most egregious examples of historic antisemitism. George Soros isn’t just an inscrutable survivor and capitalist, they actually talk about him as if he is the devil. It was spectacular to see just how few people challenged that idea, pointing out that a 14 year old who is using fake papers to hide his heritage is not in any position to stand up to Nazis who have taken over the apparatus of his homeland. When the police, the army and most of your neighbors have decided you don’t deserve any legal rights or respect, how do you fight back?

You do not. People are judging real experiences of the Holocaust against the lens of our fiction, which emphasizes the importance of standing up against evil instead of passive compliance. But art is not reality. In our art they give resistance fighters magic powers because no one really wants to watch a movie where we see realistic depictions of people’s deaths under despotism. There is no movie if this scene has a realistic ending.

PragerU is such a useful example of how propaganda works. Their videos are well-crafted and easy to watch, with lots of graphics and professional speakers. Some of them are even true, for example, there is one I’ve seen friends share with the shocking revelation, “Was the Civil War Fought Over Slavery?” Their answer is yes. And honestly, it’s a pretty good video for sharing with people who don’t yet believe that.

But this short piece of genuinely good content dwells alongside other less truthful pieces. Like “Calling Good People Racist Isn’t New: The Case of Ty Cobb” and “Why Isn’t Communism As Hated As Nazism?” evidently forgetting that whole, House UnAmerican Activities Committee thing.

When you visit Prager’s site, they are quick to tell you why you should come back. Their site says, “We make it effortless for you to be smarter.” Their business model is based on the assumption that people will consume their content uncritically.

https://www.prageru.com/what-we-do

But most of their content is opinion pieces. They shared this piece this week as well, and you can see as you watch it that it’s not really relying on facts or citations for its claims. These are emotional appeals.

My favorite part is the fake Orwell quote at 4:25. She uses it to discredit the idea that academics studying gender roles might have any useful ideas, but the citation shown to the side is of a paper in a widely respected journal. Which she misrepresents. Peer reviewed papers might not always have valuable ideas, but there’s some spectacular irony in poo pooing the idea of scientific inquiry by attaching Orwell’s name to something he never even said.

I wonder if these testimonials will ever be displayed on their website.

How do we fail to hold entities like Prager accountable for the impressions they leave their fans? Their page is full of comments just like these, with people spinning incredibly ignorant antisemitic stories. Is this not an unhealthy effect on the people consuming their content? These people think 14 year olds were running businesses in Berlin, not realizing that the 14 year olds Hitler sent to the front were a sign of their desperation, not an endorsement of the average 14 year old’s abilities in the 40s.

“The shocking fanaticism and reckless bravery of the Hitler Youth in battle astounded the British and Canadians who fought them. They sprang like wolves against tanks. If they were encircled or outnumbered, they fought-on until there were no survivors. Young boys, years away from their first shave, had to be shot dead by Allied soldiers, old enough, in some cases, to be their fathers. The “fearless, cruel, domineering” youth Hitler had wanted had now come of age and arrived on the battlefield with utter contempt for danger and little regard for their own lives. This soon resulted in the near destruction of the entire division.”

There is an object lesson here, in the danger of preaching to the choir. Bit by bit, our country seems to be losing its mooring to reality. I have no idea how a person alludes to Schindler’s List, comparing the people saved by people like Schindler unfavorably to Schindler himself. Such a concept shouldn’t even be possible: how can you be a hero unless the people you rescued deserved to be saved? How can you judge a person who made choices based on their own survival when we have so many records of how the world failed those who needed help?

Being smart is always an effort. Being propagandized is effortless. Research and education are labor. It is work to know true things. It bears noting at this point that almost all of the high quality journalism is behind paywalls. I have refused to join Medium as a member, not because I don’t think journalism is hard or that people shouldn’t be paid for their work, but because I think the market incentives we have are leading more people into traps filled with garbage that feels true but isn’t.

PragerU’s bullshit is free. It tells you things that feel true. On their site they have celebrities like Ben Shapiro, Adam Carolla, Mike Rowe, Judith Miller, Alan Dershowitz and Charles Krauthammer lending credibility to their content. Even while much of the content on the site argues strenuously that the United States owes a duty to the survival of the Jewish people, most notably in the form of military aid for Israel, it seems incredible that, on social media, they unfold into a safe space for antisemitism and ignorance. As of now, the video they shared has been shared 10,831 times and it has been viewed by three quarters of a million people.

This is how you begin to forget the Holocaust, by doubting that the circumstances that survivors faced were as dire as they were.

By imagining that some people probably didn’t deserve to be saved.

By forgetting the unforgiveable.