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Volokh Conspiracy

Of Course It's Legitimate to Criticize George Soros' Spending to Influence American Politics


Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass has apparently had his column moved from page 2 "farther back in the print edition" after being accused of anti-Semitism for his column criticizing George Soros' influence on American politics:

President Donald Trump is sending federal law enforcement into the big cities run by Democratic mayors, where murder and gang shootings are out of control and where once vibrant downtown areas are on their way to becoming ghost towns.

And naturally, the Democratic mayors, backing Joe Biden, are on the defensive, upset that the president might win political advantage, even as the mayors feud with their own police departments, as the violence rises in their towns, as children are gunned down.

But these Democratic cities are also where left-wing billionaire George Soros has spent millions of dollars to help elect liberal social justice warriors as prosecutors. He remakes the justice system in urban America, flying under the radar.

The Soros-funded prosecutors, not the mayors, are the ones who help release the violent on little or no bond….

I can't speak with confidence about just why the Tribune decided as it did. (The official Tribune statement was that the columnists were moved into an opinion section to "help … maintain the credibility of our news coverage with our online audience, our print readers and our communities amid what is by all accounts a raw and hyper-partisan political environment.") But the claim that Kass's column is anti-Semitic—"The odious, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that billionaire George Soros is a puppet master controlling America's big cities does not deserve a mainstream voice, especially at a time when hate crimes are rising"—strikes me as quite unfounded.

George Soros is trying to play a major role in American political life; according to the New York Magazine (Gabriel Debenedetti) story "Ranking the Most Influential Democratic Donors in the 2020 Race," George Soros was #3 on the list, right behind Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. People can praise him for that, or can criticize him, just as the Kochs on the right and other such spenders are criticized by people they disagree with. I have nothing against rich people spending money to support speech they like, but it's perfectly legitimate to fault them for promoting what the author thinks are bad ideas.

Nor does this seem to be some sort of cherry-picking of a Jewish donor just because he's Jewish. He is indeed a major and long-standing funder of left-wing causes; his role in funding causes he believes in is widely reported in mainstream media outlets, see, e.g., this recent Bloomberg story about his plan to "Invest $220 Million in U.S. Equality Groups," and this recent Washington Post op-ed on his "trying to change the system that made him rich." [UPDATE: Just to be clear, he also seems unusual in donating a lot of money "to help elect liberal social justice warriors as prosecutors," which is Kass's objection; just for an example, see these Washington Post articles about Soros's massive contribution to one local race.]

Soros is genuinely a big player here, and thus rightly a big target for those who disagree with him. (For whatever it's worth, as best I can tell, of the 8 top Democratic donors included on the New York Magazine list, 7 are Jewish, and the one exception, Tom Steyer, is half-Jewish, though a practicing Christian.) We Jews shouldn't be specially criticized because we are Jewish, but we also aren't entitled to special immunity from criticism because we are Jewish.

Kass's response is here. David Bernstein took a somewhat different approach in this 2018 post, though I read David's point there as focused on lies and distortions about Soros rather than criticisms generally (such as Kass's).

UPDATE: Thanks to Hans Bader for pointing me to the Arlington County race that I mention in the UPDATE above.