How George Soros became the target of antisemites and right-wing Jews
By now, it has become a familiar pattern: after an event that polarises the country, United States President Donald Trump knows who to pin the blame on.
by Eric Cortellessa
When liberal and conservative America was split over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation fight last month – and Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that he sexually assaulted her in high school – the president spread a theory that was sure to inflame that divide.
He said that left-wing billionaire George Soros was paying the masses of demonstrators who had descended on Capitol Hill, and who were pushing senators to reject Kavanaugh’s bid for the High Court.
Then this week, the president promulgated an unfounded conspiracy theory that the very same Democratic megadonor was funding a caravan of Central American migrants. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” Trump told reporters.
Those two instances – and the reactions to them – reflect the bizarre role Soros is playing in the American public’s imagination. So, too, do revelations that an explosive device was sent to his house, and that Robert Bowers, the suspect in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, was driven by the myth that Soros was behind the migrant caravan heading north in Mexico.
“This latest round of conspiracy theories about Soros, fuelled by tweets by high-profile public officials, are hardly new,” said Aryeh Tuchman, the Associate Director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism (ADL). He added that, in a May report analysing antisemitic speech on Twitter, the ADL noted that Soros was prominently mentioned in a large chunk of antisemitic tweets, often with claims that he directly uses his largesse to fund false flag events.
One noteworthy allegation said that Soros was responsible for August 2017’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Other tweets, Tuchman said, “referred to his Jewish heritage in pejorative terms, and claimed that he’s trying to undermine all of Western civilization”.
As many noted after Trump falsely said that Soros was funding the Kavanaugh protests and the migrant caravans, the president was taking a page right out of the antisemites’ playbook.
Yet, many of Soros’s fiercest critics are themselves Jewish. The Republican Jewish Coalition often castigates Soros for giving money to left-wing advocacy groups like J Street – and for his foundation giving to other groups they characterise as anti-Israel, like Israeli human-rights NGO B’Tselem.
Soros brings two divergent tribes together. He has become the go-to bogeyman of both the Jewish right and antisemites.
Born in Budapest in 1930, Soros was 13 years old when the Nazis invaded Hungary. He managed to survive the Holocaust, and his family purchased documents that said they were Christians. By 1947, he had emigrated to England to become a student at the London School of Economics.
From there, he started his work in finance through a London bank, Singer & Friedlander, where he was a broker. Over the next several years, he jumped around firms before he founded Soros Fund Management.
His investment management firm was wildly successful. Since 1973, it has generated more than $40 billion (R567 billion). Soros, who lives in Westchester County, New York, is now estimated to be worth roughly $8 billion (R113 billion), making him one of the richest people in the world.
With his wealth, Soros has become active in liberal causes. He first became politically engaged, according to The Washington Post, after the 2004 election, when George W. Bush won a second term against then senator John Kerry.
Through his organisation, Open Society Foundations, an international grant-making network, he has been a primary donor of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and the Democracy Alliance. He also gave large sums of money to the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, including $1 million (R14 million) to a Super PAC (independent fundraising committee) supporting the former during the 2012 campaign.
Rabbi Jack Moline, the President of the Interfaith Alliance, said that Soros had the unique blend of ingredients to make him the subject of antisemitic tropes.
“I think you would need an entire graduate degree in the history of the Jews and their relationship with other nations to pluck out all of the various boxes that he ticks off just by being who he is. He’s a man with liberal – even socialist – politics; he’s fabulously wealthy; he’s reclusive; he’s European by origin, which puts him on the outside of the Hungarian culture he was in because he’s Jewish; and it puts him on the outside of the ‘true Americans’ in this country,” Moline told The Times of Israel. “He has it all.”
Soros has become an instrument used by bigots to instil fear in the hearts of their populist followings. He is playing a role that other Jews have invariably played throughout the course of history. In some ways, he is just the latest iteration.
On some level, it is a simple equation: those on the left don’t like big donors for the right, while those on the right don’t like big donors for the left.
Jonathan Tobin, a conservative columnist who frequently writes for the National Review and is editor in chief of the Jewish News Syndicate, argues that Soros is to the right what GOP (Grand Old Party) mega donors are to the left.
“When I look at some of the ways that conservative Republicans talk about Soros, it’s kind of the mirror image of the way Democrats have been talking about the Koch brothers for years,” Tobin said. “Or Sheldon Adelson.”
But while the Kochs and megadonor Adelson are the subjects of intense criticism from the left, they are not often targeted with unfounded theories that they are fomenting instability or controlling major governmental or financial institutions.
“A person who promotes a Soros conspiracy theory may not intend to promulgate antisemitism, but Soros’s Jewish identity is so well-known that in many cases it is hard not to infer that meaning,” said the ADL’s Tuchman.
“Even if no antisemitic insinuation is intended, casting a Jewish individual as a puppet master who manipulates national events for malign purposes has the effect of mainstreaming an antisemitic trope, and giving support, however unwitting, to bona-fide antisemites and extremists who disseminate these ideas knowingly and with malice.”
When it comes to Soros’s place within the Jewish community, Moline notes, there is a different dynamic that Soros shares with Adelson.
“There’s always been a love-hate relationship that the Jews have had with the wealthy in their own community,” he said. “When they’re generous for the right causes, they’re lauded, and when they’re generous for the wrong causes, they’re condemned. Adelson is the same way. The people who praise him for Birthright often condemn him for his involvement with the Republican Party.”
But Soros fills such a unique set of check boxes, he has become the bogeyman for more than one corner of the American public. That those corners are often in conflict is evidence, Moline suggests, that the controversies surrounding Soros are often not so much about Soros himself.
“I think that most people who criticise George Soros don’t know very much about him,” Moline said. “Whether it is non-Jews criticising him as a Jew, or whether it is Jews criticising him as a liberal, it says more about the person doing the criticising than it does about the person they’re criticising.”