George Soros Paid 'Student Radicals' To Organize Pro-Palestine Encampments? - 8 minutes read

In late April 2024, as thousands of college students across the United States established encampments protesting the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and standing in solidarity with the residents of the Gaza Strip, an idea began to spread online: that the students had been paid to protest.

Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz echoed the claim on a podcast, claiming that the billionaire investor and philanthropist, George Soros, Geowas paying students to organize the protests. 

By going through the publicly available list of grants given by Soros' charity, the Open Society Foundations (OSF), Snopes found that one of the organizations involved in the protests received a grant from OSF. But it is very misleading to claim or suggest that Soros was funding the protests directly. Here's why:

Cruz was paraphrasing an article that originally appeared in the New York Post on April 26, 2024. The last publicly available records from the Open Society Foundations are from 2022, before the Israel-Hamas war began in October 2023. As explained in The Washington Post, the money provided by those grants is long gone — the organizations aren't just squirreling money away for two years until they need to pay people to protest. When Snopes checked all of the money mentioned in the New York Post article, we found the exact same numbers. The entire claim was based on data that predates the war itself.

Origins of the Rumor

On April 17, 2024, as their university president was preparing to testify before Congress, students at Columbia University began setting up tents in front of the school's library, creating what has now become known as the Gaza Solidarity Encampment. It wasn't the first — students at Vanderbilt University organized a sit-in on March 26, 2024 — and it would not be the last. 

But as the protests grew, with students across the country setting up encampments at their own universities, at the risk of suspension, expulsion and arrest, questions arose about where the money to support them came from. For instance, many users on social media questioned why many of the tents used in the encampment were the same, suggesting that it was due to a large funding effort rather than a grassroots movement. We'll fact-check this rumor later.

On April 24, 2024, an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal claimed that two activists and organizers, one at the University of California, Berkeley, and the second at Yale University, had indirectly received money from Soros. 

On April 26, 2024, the New York Post published an article with the headline "George Soros is paying student radicals who are fueling nationwide explosion of Israel-hating protests." The article claimed that three individuals, including both mentioned in the Wall Street Journal piece, received funding from Soros, and that Soros (among others) covertly hid his donations by using a "network of nonprofits that help obscure their contributions."

These two articles helped circulate this claim, which, like other tricky claims that Snopes investigates, has a tiny nugget of truth surrounded by a lot of misleading and strange rhetoric.

A Tiny Nugget of Truth and Curtain of Lies

Soros' charitable givings are done through the Open Society Foundations, which his son Alexander runs. It also publishes a list of every grant issued by the organization between 2016 and 2022.

The New York Post article claimed Soros funded the protests through three organizations: Education for Just Peace in the Middle East, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace. 

We searched through the database and found three donations to Education for Just Peace in the Middle East, totaling $700,000. That organization publicly operates under the name U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, or USPCR. According to the New York Post, USPCR paid three organizers "between $2,880 and $3,660" through a fellowship program. This is where the idea that Soros had "paid protesters" to organize comes from.

Snopes was able to confirm that at least one of these organizers had participated in USPCR's fellowship program. But in a statement to The Washington Post, a representative of USPCR confirmed that all three individuals named in the article were former fellows. In more explicit terms, they were not receiving money from USPCR in April 2024 when they independently decided to organize protests.

Next, we checked any money sent to Students for Justice in Palestine. The New York Post follows a money trail from Soros' Open Society Foundations to the Tides Foundation to the Westchester People's Action Coalition Foundation (WESPAC) to SJP.

Snopes found that the Tides Foundation received about $15 million from OSF from 2016 to 2022 — out of total donations of $4.09 billion over the same time frame. Of that $4.09 billion, WESPAC received one donation of $132,000, and Snopes could not find any public evidence of that donation. For its part, SJP denied the claims that it was funded by WESPAC in The Washington Post article, calling the idea "baseless."

As for Jewish Voice of Peace, OSF did donate directly — $875,000 over four separate donations, two of which were to a branch of the organization that can participate in political advocacy directly. The organization spent $18.3 million over the same time period. That's a metaphorical drop in the bucket.

All of this money, we remind you, was donated by Open Society Foundations between 2016 and 2022 — more than a year before the relevant protesting began. 

An Open Society Foundations spokesperson shared the following statement with Snopes via email:

The Open Society Foundations has a long history of fighting antisemitism, islamophobia and all forms of racism and hate. Open Society has funded a broad spectrum of US groups that have advocated for the rights of Palestinians and Israelis and for peaceful resolution to the conflict in Israel and the OPT. This funding is a matter of public record, disclosed on our website, fully compliant with US laws, and is part of our commitment to continuing open debate that is ultimately the only hope for peace in the region. The Open Society Foundations proudly support the right of all citizens to peaceful protest — a bedrock principle of our democracy.

As for the claim about the tents: We found that the most commonly used tent at the protests would set a protester back about $35 on Amazon and was available for overnight delivery. Therefore, the tents were easily procurable by individual students. 

There's one more way Snopes was able to determine that these organizations were not receiving massive amounts of funding from the foundations themselves — social media. Pulling up Instagram accounts for college chapters that have organized the protests, we find donation requests — here's one from Northwestern University and another from UCLA (archived link). If the protests really had the financial backing of a billionaire, why would they be asking the public for donations?

Why Soros?

As Snopes has previously reported, Soros is a wealthy businessman and philanthropist who donates money to left-leaning causes. He has become, arguably, one of the most common targets of the far right — who cast him as an evil "globalist" responsible for pulling the strings of virtually any left-leaning political dissent in America.

The invocation of Soros, a Jewish man who survived the Holocaust, is often a tacit nod to antisemitic conspiracy theories that cast the Jewish people as being in control of institutions like banks and the media. His name is also frequently included in variations of the xenophobic "replacement theory" conspiracy theory that accuses wealthy Democrats of importing foreigners into America to ensure Democratic electoral success. 

The suggestion that he secretly funds high-profile protest movements is not new. He has been falsely accused of funding Black Lives Matter protests, the pro–gun control March for Our Lives demonstrations and protests against the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The spring 2024 claims were particularly fascinating because many of the same people claiming Soros was a funding source also claimed the protests themselves were antisemitic.


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