LAHAV HARKOV, JEREMY SHARON
Civil Liberties for Europe, spun off of Soros’ Open Society Foundation, tried to convince the German Foreign Ministry to intervene against a controversial Hungarian law targeting Soros’ NGO donations
George Soros.. (photo credit: PASCAL LAUENER / REUTERS)
Balázs Dénes, the head of a new organization directly funded by Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, was recorded speaking about the organization’s method of leveraging foreign governments’ influence on other countries, in leaked materials from a meeting in Amsterdam in January.
Dénes is the Berlin-based executive director of the Civil Liberties Union for Europe, which was spun off of Soros’ Open Society Foundation (OSF) in January 2017.
In the recordings of Dénes’ meeting with a person, who he thought was a supporter, he talked about his organization’s work to pressure Hungary to overturn a law limiting foreign funding for NGOs, an attempt to limit Soros’ activities in the country. The European Commission had said previously that the law goes against EU values.
Dénes’ remarks show a focused effort to influence Hungarian law by leveraging German influence on the country. He detailed attempts to convince Germany to put heavy economic pressure on Budapest to revoke the NGO law, because German companies have invested heavily and are major employers in Hungary.
When it comes to the NGO law, Dénes said, “We work very hard. I’m having a meeting this week with a think tank, an organization which is influencing the German government, and the foreign ministry of Germany, and I’m bringing them copies of the law, just translated from Hungarian, and I’m explaining to them what they can do against it.”
Asked how Germany can fight a Hungarian law, Dénes pointed to Mercedes, Audi and electronics brand Bosch’s factories in Hungary.
“Germany, because of the German investors and German companies, is an influential player in Hungary, so if the German Foreign Ministry wants something, they can, they have means,” Dénes said.
The organization is also “creating a task force, a group of lawyers who know how to use EU law in Hungary and these countries to protect the rights of NGOs.”
Hungary’s nationalist government and many of its policies have been criticized by fellow EU countries and human rights groups. Jewish groups and others have protested the government’s moves to honor former Hungarian leader and Nazi collaborator Miklós Horthy, who oversaw the murder of over half a million Jews.
The Hungarian government sparked controversy last year with a campaign against Soros’ pro-migration stances. The campaign featured Soros’ smiling face with the words “let’s not leave Soros the last laugh,” and spurred incidents of antisemitic graffiti around the country.
Soros’ OSF is the main backer of Dénes’ organization, of which he said in the Amsterdam meeting: “We got a million dollars from the Open Society Foundations. Because it’s a OSF spinoff…It means that my project was running at OSF, and after four years, when we said, ‘Okay, now we’re ready, we can establish this thing,’ the OSF, Soros told me that, you know, we give you three million dollars, for the next three years.”
In the recording, Dénes also explained how the European Civil Liberties project in the OSF, which then became the separate organization funded by the OSF, came to be and what its goals were.
“The big reason why I was recruited five years ago by OSF was the recognition that at the moment in Europe, there is no human rights group which is able to control the EU,” he stated.
Control is the ability “to fight back on certain things, and, and that’s a very important ‘and,’ to organize people and launch public campaigns and mobilization,” he explained.
Soros, who is worth $8 billion according to Forbes’ 2018 billionaires list, is a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor based in the US, who runs his own hedge fund, and is a prominent philanthropist supporting human rights and mostly left-wing causes. His philanthropy has turned him into a bogeyman for right-wing politicians in many countries. Some of the criticism of Soros has featured antisemitic themes, in the vein of conspiratorial libels about Jews trying to control the world.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Soros of being responsible for a campaign against the government’s plan to deport Sudanese and Eritrean migrants to a third country in Africa. A 2016 leak of internal reports from Soros’ OSF on the now-defunct website “DC Leaks” showed that he donated to Breaking the Silence, which collects testimony from IDF veterans claiming war crimes, and Adalah, an Israeli-Arab legal aid organization, both of which have spoken out against Israeli actions in international forums.
Another of Soros’ grantees is the New Israel Fund, a clearinghouse for Israeli civil rights groups, which received $837,500 from 2002 to 2015. Soros is also a funder of J Street, which calls itself pro-Israel and lobbies in Washington DC against the current Israeli government’s policies.
Confirming his remarks in the recordings, Dénes told The Jerusalem Post that he was not suggesting German companies divest from Hungary, but that “if the German Foreign Ministry wants to achieve something in Hungary, their voice is probably strong enough to be taken seriously, because of the German investments in Hungary.”
As for whether it would be legitimate to push Germany to influence Hungarian laws, Dénes said “when those laws are not in line with the EU, and not in line with the Lisbon Treaty and the Fundamental values of the EU, I do think that is an option…The EU is seeking action at the moment because of the law I’m referring to. It’s not an innocent law regulating taxation or anything else, it’s a law limiting the rights of NGOs, because of which there are EU procedures at the moment.”
Dénes differentiated between expressing an opinion on legislation and influencing it: “We don’t influence legislation, we talk to decision-makers and the people directly, but we have no other means to influence legislation.”
When he said “control the EU,” Dénes explained that his remarks were meant “in the sense that what the EU does in terms of human rights should be watch-dogged by civil liberty organizations. Human rights NGOs should be able to exercise a watchdog function over any public institution…An international organization such as mine should be able to tell different foreign governments what could be their policy over another government’s policy. I see no problem with that.”