Is billionaire George Soros intentionally funding the pro-Palestinian protests in US colleges?

We came across several posts on local messaging groups sharing similar claims that George Soros, a prominent Hungarian-American left-leaning philanthropist, has been intentionally funding pro-Palestinian protests in US colleges.

Upon further research, we found that these claims were far-reaching, with numerous articles and videos from news outlets in the UK and India referencing a New York Post which references George Soros’ “hard-left acolytes” that have instigated protests within American campuses.

Given that some of these articles have been published on platforms with high reach, particularly YouTube channels with millions of followers, we aimed to uncover the facts and understand the complexities behind the issue, before we see the claim spread further in Singapore.

Why are American students protesting?

We have seen multiple reports of hundreds of arrests across US colleges in California, New York and Boston, even as recently as 28 April 2024. The nationwide protests, which started at Columbia University in New York on 17 April 2024, have led to over 900 arrests, numerous school closures in fear of antisemitism sentiments, and actual on-campus clashes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protest groups.

Despite the chaos and confusion, the demands of the protestors are defined – they want their universities to stop working with Israel’s military-industrial complex and its appendages. According to Sky News, this includes:

  • Stop doing business with military weapons manufacturers that are supplying arms to Israel
  • Stop accepting research money from Israel for projects that aid the country’s military efforts
  • Be more transparent about what money is received from Israel and what it’s used for
  • Stop investing college endowments with money managers who profit from Israeli companies or contractors

According to the US Education Department, around 100 American colleges have received approximately USD375 million worth of gifts and contracts from Israel over the past 20 years. With the escalation of the Israel-Gaza conflict captivating the world, students have grown uncomfortable with these close-knit relations.

Who is George Soros?

George Soros is a hedge fund tycoon who established an investment empire in New York in 1969. He is also a Holocaust survivor and has fought against antisemitic movements in the past.

In 1979, Soros started engaging in philanthropic efforts, and over the years, has championed against apartheid, the war on drugs, and backed same-sex marriage efforts. He also started the remnants of what is now known as the Open Society Foundations (OSF) in 1984, a collective of foundations, partners and agencies operating in more than 120 countries. However, he handed over the foundation’s leadership to his son in 2023.

Forbes describes Soros as “the most generous giver” in the world – based on the percentage of net worth donated – and the OSF describes Soros as “one of the world’s foremost philanthropists”, asserting that he has donated over USD32 billion to philanthropic efforts since 1984. Soros has also been recognised as one of the Democratic Party’s largest donors.

However, these donations have also raised suspicions about Soros’ influence, and he has become the subject of multiple conspiracy theories – such as allegations of controlling the press. In particular, his generous support to liberal democratic causes in the US, along with his campaign donations to Democratic candidates, has drawn criticism for perceived elitism, especially from right-wing politicians and advocates.

Is George Soros paying the pro-Palestinian protestors in US colleges?

According to the original New York Post article, groups fronting these protests have received funding from the OSF, which has been used to plant protestors and supply the protestors with shelter, food, and other essential items.

The article points to a funding grant received by one of these groups, Education for Just Peace in the Middle East (referred to as U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights in the article), which amounts to USD300,000. However, an expose of these claims in the Washington Post has clarified that the funding was granted in 2018 and should have no direct connection with these protests.

The organisation was later given grants by the OSF in 2021 and 2022, amounting to roughly USD400,000, and based on tax returns, spent roughly USD2.4 million during this period, of which at least USD2 million was not monies received from OSF.

The article by the New York Post appears to be a quintessential case of taking surface-level information to misconstrue the realities on the ground, such as omitting the context that OSF’s donation of USD300,000 to one of the protest groups was made in 2018. Moreover, there was no evidence provided by the article to substantiate the claim that George Soros is intentionally funding these protests in the US.

Hence, the claim that George Soros is intentionally funding the US college protests is likely false.

Why is this relevant to us?

With the college protests taking place more than 15,000 kilometres from our shores, it might be easy to underestimate the impact that false narratives can have on our society.

As it stands, the Israel-Gaza conflict remains relatively politically charged in Singapore, and as recently as 15 April, a clip circulated on social media of three protestors unfurling a pro-Palestinian banner at OCBC Skyway in Gardens by the Bay.

Furthermore, as exemplified in the fact-check, false narratives can emerge through the omission of critical contextual information from genuine data and sources. Through this practice, disinformation can appear to be factual, and in some cases, affirm a confirmation bias, which could sow a deeper sense of distrust and injustice.

Hence, it is important to be vigilant and take the time to verify the information we come across and its sources, before we circulate it or act on it.

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