George Soros has a long and storied track record of being all villains to all people. Nobody that rich, and that meddlesome in international affairs—through his massive, market-influencing hedge-fund bets against national currencies, or via his multi-billion dollar "Open Society" philanthropy in 50-plus countries—could avoid being fitted for devil's horns on a daily basis.
In the past 10 days alone the Karl Popper-influenced, Hungarian-born American citizen has been accused by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and deposed Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze of directly engineering Georgia's "Rose Revolution"; slammed by bilious Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam as a "greater threat to democracy" than even (gasp!) Rupert Murdoch (in part, because of Soros' support for medical-marijuana ballot initiatives in several states); cited in press reports as the main reason for drops in the U.S. dollar and South African rand; and accused by CounterPunch's Jacob Levich as willingly allowing his overseas NGOs to be "openly integrated into Washington's overall strategy for consolidating global supremacy."
The latter claim in particular would seem oddly dissonant behavior from a man who has just written a book called The Bubble of American Supremacy (an excerpt from which can be found in the December Atlantic Monthly), and who has donated $15 million so far in a well publicized effort to effect "regime change" on President George Bush, a man he calls "a danger to the world." But then, rationality has never been the high point of Soros' many detractors.
Until very recently, you could place most of Soros' fiercest critics in categories marked "paranoid" and "anti-democratic." In 1990s Central Europe, where he and his various organizations were ubiquitous presences (at least in the cosmopolitan capital cities), reaction to Soros was a useful if crude indicator of a politician's basic orientation. Vaclav Klaus' messy early-1990s rejection of Soros' plans to locate his independent Central European University in Prague was an important early omen that the West's favorite post-communist free marketeer would have an icy attitude toward Burke's "Little Platoons", should said platoons look large enough to threaten Klaus' own hold on power. Open Society Institutes were forcibly shut down by the thuggish governments of Yugoslavia, Croatia and Belarus, and singled out for abuse by brutish former Slovakia Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.
But now, Slavic autocrats have been joined in red-faced George-bashing by two new overlapping groups: American conservatives, and hawkish friends of Israel. Ever since Soros began ladling out millions to the dump-Bush campaign, while larding his anti-administration rhetoric with inflammatory comparisons to Nazi Germany and Yasser Arafat, it has been open season on Open Society. Thus we now have the spectacle of one of the world's most active and influential anti-communists (not to mention one of its most successful capitalists) being tarred as a particularly dangerous friend of Marx and Lenin.
Former National Review contributor and ex-House Republican staffer Phil Brennan called Soros a "socialist billionaire," and lumped him with the group of American "progressives" who he says spend their time "sitting in their privileged retreats, contemplating the glories of such heroes of socialism as Fidel Castro, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini and that great leader of Iraq's socialist Ba'athist party Saddam Hussein."
Scott Shore of IntellectualConservative.com labeled him a "Soft Money Marxist." FrontPage Magazine's Lowell Ponte came up with "Radical Left-inclined puppet-master," adding, ominously: "[W]hat tune will this international financier demand from the party and President his millions purchased? What hidden agendas and interests, domestic and foreign, might be served?" *
A site called GOPusa.com published (then later withdrew) a particularly charming screed by James Hall, entitled "Satan Lives in George Soros," that memorably described Soros as "a Hungarian-born descendant of Shylock."
It is on the faultlines of anti-Semitism that the Jewish Holocaust survivor has received some of the most withering criticism, most stemming from this reported response at an early November Jewish forum in New York to a question about rising anti-Semitism in Europe: "There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that… It's not specifically anti-Semitism, but it does manifest itself in anti-Semitism as well. I'm critical of those policies… If we change that direction, then anti-Semitism also will diminish… I'm also very concerned about my own role because the new anti-Semitism holds that the Jews rule the world… As an unintended consequence of my actions…I also contribute to that image."
This was enough to provoke unfunny comedian Jackie Mason and writing partner Raoul Felder into not only identifying Soros as a "self-hating Jew," but calling him a "donkey," criticizing his mother's conversion from the faith, and even taking a swipe at the pre-pubescent George's efforts at "passing as a non-Jew…to survive World War II."
Jerusalem Post columnists had a field day: Uriel Heilman said that the comments "defended anti-Semitism," Uri Dan charged that Soros "hasn't learned the lessons of the Holocaust," and Amotz Asa-El called him the "epitome" of the "overlap between anti-Semitic myth and Jewish reality," and a man "who spent a lifetime laboring to transform Henry Ford's International Jew from myth to reality."
Is George Soros a self-hating anti-Semite? I don't have the omniscience or temperament to make that judgment about someone who survived the Holocaust and directly confronted anti-Semitism on a constant basis in post-communist Central Europe. I can say, after more than a decade of observing his actions and words, that, regarding his comments on his own role in anti-Semitism, overly critical self-examination is at the root of his intellectual approach, along with (contradictory as it sounds) a massive ego and belief in his superior hunches.
Soros is at turns a fascinating and infuriating man, eminently ripe for the criticizing (here's a Reason example from last March), especially now that he's thrust himself at the forefront of the 2004 presidential election. But he's neither socialist nor shylock, and calling him so reveals more about the prejudices of the speaker than the faults of the man.