Every now and then, there is criticism of the famous and very wealthy investor George Soros. Recently, Elon Musk likened Soros to the comic book character Magneto, which may have been amusing or uncalled for. A well-known American Jewish organization and someone considered to be an expert on antisemitism protested it as “antisemitism,” saying it employed “Jewish tropes.”
In reality, the Musk comparison does not containt any antisemitic message except in someone’s imagination and intellectualization of the term. Powerful verbal makeup has been applied to Soros, labeling him a Holocaust survivor to cast him as a poor victim, which doesn’t seem to be his self-view. Still, a super-shield was built trying to protect him from legitimate criticism.
I, too, survived the Holocaust in Budapest. Holocaust survivors and Jews in general can’t be legitimately criticized? Is mentioning the crimes of Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Bernie Madoff also antisemitic and use of Jewish tropes? Soros is attempting to change Hungary’s political milieu with huge investments, and years ago there were large posters there with the message “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh!” That, too, was erroneously called antisemitic by some Jewish groups.
During the Holocaust, in an intensely antisemitic, fascist, murderous and Nazi-allied Hungary in 1944, Soros was a teenager. He went with a non-Jewish friend of his father to inventory the contents of Jewish homes in preparation for confiscation of belongings.
Much later in America, Soros was blamed for this anti-Jewish act and expressed no shame or regret. He stated that if he didn’t participate in the inventories, someone else would have, hence there was no need to feel bad about it. By his insensitive logic, German, Japanese, and Russian soldiers could also have exclaimed that they don’t need to regret raping women, since if they didn’t, then someone else would have. When the inventory incident was revealed on an American radio or TV show, an American Jewish organization was quick to term it an antisemitic attack on Soros. I doubt that any reasonable Jew would agree with this characterization, especially those who had firsthand experience with that evil social disease.
Calling criticism of George Soros antisemitic is irresponsible
Soros thrust himself in the limelight by use of his great wealth to blatantly interfere in the affairs of countries, including Israel, and he helps fund radical political groups. It is not only permissible but obligatory to look at his actions critically.
Calling legitimate criticism of Soros antisemitic is irresponsible. It is politicizing that term, is destroying or at best devaluing its meaning, and it needs to stop. According to Soros, he comes from a Jewish antisemitic home, which is, of course, not his fault. He recalls Nazi-infested 1944 Budapest as thrilling, where he says he had the best year of his life, full of adventure and a game of cops and robbers while hiding from the Nazis and their supporters.
Many who survived the Holocaust abandoned Judaism, and some did not tell their children that they were born Jewish in order to protect them from antisemitism. This may be one reason that Soros is so distant from Judaism and alienated from Israel, but things are more complex. It may also have a lot to do with his opposition to what he calls “tribalism.” He visited Israel once in 1994, perhaps because Benny Landa, the founder of Indigo, a very successful innovative Israeli company in which Soros invested, tried to bring him closer to his Jewish roots and invited him. It is surprising that Soros once introduced himself in Romania as a Hungarian Jew.
Despite the fact that he donates heavily to organizations opposing Israel, Soros does not seem to be antisemitic. From youth, he fancied himself as a philosopher, probably due to his contact with Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper in London, and he is driven by a messianic self-image, which leads him to try to change the world according to his philosophy. Soros, 93, recently handed over the reins of his $25 billion financial and charitable empire to his 37-year-old son, Alex, a supporter of liberal Jewish causes.
Of course, it is necessary to condemn real antisemitism versus imagined antisemitism. I have lived in communist Budapest, as well as in New York. Fortunately, I rarely encountered anything antisemitic in those places. Sadly, the worst antisemitic statements I heard or read have been in Israel. For example, a family friend originally from Europe stated that if one sees haredim, then it is possible to understand the Nazis. Someone I know exclaimed after watching an Israeli TV news program, “The haredim are thieves.” A poster about a National Religious kindergarten in Kfar Saba read “To exterminate the haredim at birth.”
Recently, a high-ranking member of the Tel Aviv municipality was enraged after learning that secular Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv was desecrated by “the Jews,” who had the audacity to pray there, and they had the nerve to have men and women stand in separate areas.
How come such hate-filled statements are not forcefully condemned as antisemitic? I have attended three large multi-day Global Forums for Combating Antisemitism conferences organized by the Foreign Ministry and didn’t hear a single word about antisemitism in our midst. We should learn to park our politics and be honest when it concerns antisemitism, and stop devaluing its meaning. ■
Larry Pfeffer was born in Budapest, where he survived the Holocaust and immigrated to America. He made aliyah with his family and worked in hi-tech.