Jonathan P. Baird: George Soros and the anti-Semitic stereotype

  • Philanthropist George Soros, founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundations, attends the European Council on Foreign Relations annual meeting in Paris on May 29. AP file

For the Monitor
Published: 1/13/2019 12:20:16 AM

There is a long history of people on the far right casting Jews as malign puppet masters who work behind the scenes to manipulate both national and international events for their selfish gain. The puppet master is always fantastically wealthy, greedy and amoral.

In our era, the puppet master stereotype has been embodied by George Soros. Few people, with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton, have been more vilified by the far right. Both the number and intensity of the attacks on Soros are astounding.

President Donald Trump has tweeted that Soros had paid professionals to demonstrate against his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. The Pittsburgh synagogue shooter posted that Soros controlled the Honduran migrant caravan. President Trump’s son Donald Jr. retweeted a claim from comedian Roseanne Barr that Soros “was a nazi who turned in his fellow Jews.”

The actor James Woods tweeted that Soros was “satanic.” Trump attorney Rudi Giuliani retweeted a post calling Soros “the anti-Christ.” On Twitter, Soros has been accused of supporting both Colin Kaepernick and the mass shooter at Las Vegas.

Outside the United States, especially in Eastern Europe, Soros has achieved an even greater level of notoriety, with nationalist and authoritarian governments running propaganda campaigns against him.

So who is this alleged puppet master with his fingers in so many pies?

The short answer is that Soros is a Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist. Soros was born Gyorgy Schwartz into a Jewish family in Budapest. Because of the rise of the Nazis and anti-Semitism in Hungary, Soros’s father changed the family name and dispersed family members to live with Hungarian people he trusted and paid for their efforts. Members of the Soros family, including George, pretended to be Christians just to survive.

Soros’s father sent young George to live with a Hungarian government official. One of the man’s duties was to inventory confiscated Jewish property. Soros once accompanied the man in the performance of his duties. He has acknowledged the incident, but the story led to a wild smear that casts Soros as a Nazi collaborator who sent his fellow Jews to the gas chambers.

In actuality, Soros’s father, Tivadar, saved not only his own family from the Nazis but also heroically saved many other Hungarian Jews. Soros’s father, with help from George, created thousands of fake documents for people trying to flee the Nazis.

Soros was very lucky to have survived the war and survival depended on hiding identity. Two-thirds of Hungary’s Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators.

After the war, Soros fled Hungary and moved to England. In 1951, he graduated from the London School of Economics. While there he became a student of the philosopher Karl Popper, who became a lifelong influence. Popper favored open societies committed to media freedom and civil rights over closed authoritarian societies.

In 1956, Soros moved to the United States, where he made a fortune on Wall Street. He was an expert at buying currencies and securities in one market that he turned around and sold legally for profit in the international market. Through his financial acumen, Soros became one of the 100 richest people in the world.

Soros went on to found the Open Society Foundations. Over the years, he has given away billions of dollars, funding organizations and initiatives that promote liberal democracy, independent media and political pluralism. The experience of living through Nazism and Stalinism shaped his world view.

Over the last 25 years, he has been a big Democratic Party donor. His Open Society Foundations has also funded many other progressive organizations.

Soros has been compared to the Koch brothers, except that he supports progressive and liberal causes, but he has been an atypical member of the ruling class. Concerned about climate change, economic inequality and racism, he funds initiatives that infuriate many on the right.

While it is understandable that many on the right would dislike someone who funds the other side, that does not begin to explain the hatred unleashed against Soros. Much of the hatred directed against Soros is rooted in anti-Semitic stereotypes.

The classic image is the all-powerful Jewish financier who profits and manipulates at the expense of suffering gentiles. Think the Rothschilds and Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Anti-Semites have long fantasized that Jewish masterminds are behind international conspiracies and global plots. It was a staple of Nazi propaganda. As someone stereotyped as a shadowy and cosmopolitan globalist, Soros is continuously accused, with no evidence, of all manner of evil.

Attacks on Soros have particularly increased since the 2015 European refugee crisis. Soros did back charities that helped migrants and he supported the European Union settlement efforts, which were not popular among masses of people in Europe.

The extreme right-wing Hungarian government of Viktor Orban has used Soros as a foil, falsely claiming that Soros plotted to send millions of immigrants to Hungary. Similarly in Romania, the ruling party has blamed their countries’ problems on Soros. In 2015, Putin ejected the Open Society Foundations from Russia, saying it was a threat to their constitutional system.

Ruling elites have found it useful to exploit anti-Semitic fantasies such as those attached to Soros. Pushing blame onto Jews like Soros and deflecting anger away from ruling classes has a long history. The pattern invariably asserts itself in times of severe economic strain or acute political conflict.

Anti-Semitism takes different forms in different historical periods. Once it was primarily about the religious mythology that accused the Jews of killing Christ. Now there is the populist narrative with coded anti-Semitic references to globalists. The absence of explicit slurs does not make it less anti-Semitic. Those who fail to see the anti-Semitism are missing the history.

The coded anti-Semitism about Soros is a dog whistle for all the neo-Nazis, white supremacists and closeted haters out there. It reminds me of campaign consultant Lee Atwater talking about how Republicans can win the vote of racists without sounding racist themselves.

Anti-Semitism must be understood and thoroughly repudiated, whenever it shows its face. History shows that anti-Semitic rhetoric leads to violence against Jews. Casual assertions that Soros is a monster need to be seen for what they are: 21st-century Jew hating.

(Jonathan P. Baird lives in Wilmot and blogs at jonathanpbaird.com.)


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