On Monday, a bomb was found at the Westchester home of the Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Why would someone want to bomb the 88-year-old Holocaust survivor? Why is Soros the target of anti-Semitic hatred?
We’re here to break it down for you.
Who is George Soros?
Soros was born George Schwartz in Budapest in 1930. His family changed their name to Soros in an effort to be less notably Jewish. When the Nazis occupied Hungary in 1944, Soros and his family survived by purchasing documents that identified them as Christian and hid their Jewishness. Soros remembers, “Instead of submitting to our fate, we resisted an evil force that was much stronger than we were — yet we prevailed. Not only did we survive, but we managed to help others.”
Soros’s father paid a Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture employee, Bambauch, to take George as his “godson.” (This will come back up later; rumors swirl around Soros accusing him of working with the judenrat and collaborating with the Nazis.) In a biography of Soros, his biographer, Michael Kaufman, clears the air: “Shortly after George went to live with Baumbach, the man was assigned to take inventory on the vast estate of Mor Kornfeld, an extremely wealthy aristocrat of Jewish origin.” Baumbach took George with him, though George did not help him.
Kaufman wrote how Soros would spend years in therapy “dealing with the impact that his temporary, necessary, and pragmatic denial of Jewishness at the age of fourteen had had on the development of his personality.”
In 1947, Soros immigrated to England to study at the London School of Economics. He then became a banker. In an interview in 2006, asking how he went from a Holocaust survivor to a financier, Soros said, “Well, I had a variety of jobs and I ended up selling fancy goods on the seaside, souvenir shops, and I thought, that’s really not what I was cut out to do. So, I wrote to every managing director in every merchant bank in London, got just one or two replies, and eventually that’s how I got a job in a merchant bank.” In 1956, he moved to the United States, and in 1970, he launched his own hedge fund.
Fast forward, and Soros has become one of the most successful investors in the U.S. And so: He is now a billionaire philanthropist. Let’s just look at his official biography:
Soros began his philanthropy in 1979, giving scholarships to black South Africans under apartheid. In the 1980s, he helped promote the open exchange of ideas in the Communist Eastern Bloc by providing photocopiers to reprint banned texts. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he created the Central European University as a space to foster critical thinking — at that time an alien concept at most universities in former Soviet states. He funded cultural exchanges between Eastern Europe and the West, playing a pivotal role in helping the Soviet society he had himself briefly lived in open itself to the world.
To date, he’s given away over 12 billion dollars promoting the exchange of ideas, supporting marginalized groups, and more. Soros believes strongly in liberalism, and his Open Society Foundations “provide assistance and financing to civil-society institutions that promote transparency, the rule of law, higher education, refugee aid, the rights of marginalized peoples, and democratic accountability.”
All sounds great, right?
What are the conspiracy theories around Soros?
Since Soros is a left-leaning donor in the United States (and Europe and Israel), he’s been targeted in right-wing conspiracy theories. (Here’s a great timeline.)
In a Business Insider article from 2017, Soros’s status as a favorite target of the right is explained: “To the left, he’s a rich guy openly supporting causes many liberals believe in. But to some on the far right, he’s more sinister and nefarious, despite a lack of evidence. For two decades, some have seen Soros as a kind of puppet master secretly controlling the global economy and politics.” (This can be traced back to the 1992 Black Wednesday, when Soros bet against the British pound and earned over a billion dollars.)
In Hungary, his native country, Prime Minister Viktor Orban attacked Soros, saying at a rally earlier this year, “We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.” (Sounds pretty anti-Semitic, right? We’ll get to that in a bit.)
And, as the Anti Defamation League pointed out, “Such anti-Soros activity is not unique to Hungary. Soros long has been a punching bag of authoritarian regimes across Eastern Europe where resentment lingers for his work to build democratic institutions and governments after the fall of the Iron Curtain.”
The conspiracies basically see Soros as an evil force controlling the world economy, undermining “Western civilization,” and more.
Why are these anti-Semitic?
This primer in The Daily Beast does a fantastic job of tracing the anti-Semitic boogeymen throughout history, from the Rothschilds through Soros. But basically, the Soros conspiracies sound awfully like anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
As the ADL wrote in a October 2018 report on anti-Semitism and George Soros, “A person who promotes a Soros conspiracy theory may not intend to promulgate anti-Semitism. But Soros’ Jewish identity is so well-known that in many cases it is hard not to infer that meaning. This is especially true when Soros-related conspiracy theories include other well-worn anti-Semitic tropes such as control of the media or banks; references to undermining societies or destabilizing countries; or language that hearkens back to the medieval blood libels and the characterization of Jews as evil, demonic, or agents of the antichrist.”
Brooke Binkowski, managing editor of the fact-checking site Snopes, told The Washington Post, “Our theory about Soros and why he’s such a bugbear, is he’s like every anti-Semite’s idea of what a Jew does. He’s this rich guy behind the scenes, rubbing his hands together. He’s rich and does media initiatives and dabbles in politics.”
But are these anti-Semitic conspiracy theories happening in America?
Simple answer: yes.
Long answer: In the wake of the 2016 elections, and the rise of neo-Nazis in America once agin, Soros has come to the forefront. While Soros theories have existed before Trump’s rise, they’ve become much clearer post-Trump. (Just like anti-Semitism in America…)
But these theories first started to really take hold in the American mainstream back in 2010. In a series on Fox News, Glenn Beck presented “George Soros, Puppet Master” (I don’t want to give it views, you can Google it). As The Washington Post wrote regarding that series, “Beck turned Soros into a cartoon nightmare — using actual puppets as props as he claimed the billionaire was funding a vast web of liberal organizations and trying to ‘form a shadow government, using humanitarian aid as a cover.'”
Today, American right wing personalities such as Alex Jones, Dinesh D’Souza, and Roseanne Barr (yes, she’s Jewish, but she can still be anti-Semitic) have accused Soros of being a Nazi collaborator.
— Colin Campbell (@colincampbell) May 29, 2018
(Sidenote: We’re not going to even get into how much Donald Trump Jr. tweets about Soros, specifically about how he is a Nazi. Say it with us: George Soros is not a Nazi.)
In the wake of the 2016 elections, and the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, anti-Semitism has risen to new highs in America. And Soros is right at the center. As Vox writes, “Soros has been linked by the right to virtually every liberal cause imaginable in an attempt to argue that any organic protest or outcry on the left is really the work of one sinister, shadowy (foreign) billionaire.”
Parkland? Soros. Black Lives Matter? Soros. Women’s March? Soros. #StopKavanaugh? Soros. The migrant caravan from Honduras? Soros. The list goes on and on…
Congrats to Colin Kaepernick for popularizing the hatred of America. Good work, bro. Your buddy George Soros is so proud. #istand
— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) September 24, 2017
Let’s focus on the accusations that he’s paid protestors.
While this is fun to make fun of (hell, even we have), it actually hints at something much more nefarious. And not the anti-Semitic kind of nefarious — but the rise of neo-Nazis and anti-Semitism kind.
By accusing Soros of paying protestors, right-wing personalities undermine the legitimacy of those protests. By brushing them off as not real, they can ignore them. As The Washington Post eloquently points out, “The idea that every time liberals mount a protest, it’s not a genuine expression of Americans’ opinions but a play staged by George Soros is a remarkably persistent fantasy.” By calling them “paid protestors,” their opinions can be discounted.
What does Donald Trump have to do with it?
Well, to start, he’s echoed these anti-Semitic conspiracy theories — particularly the paid protestor one. In the protests surrounding the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, Trump tweeted they were, “Paid for by Soros and others.”
The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love! #Troublemakers
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2018
Trump – and members of his administration and family — use anti-Semitic dog whistles, like the Soros one, that activate his white nationalist base. (For example: Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, recently retweeted a tweet calling Soros the “anti-Christ.” Yes, really.)
And the fear is: They’re acting on it now. Which brings us to…
A bomb was found at Soros’ home. Soros was explicitly targeted.
Conspiracy theories that start on the internet rarely stay on the internet. The more this stuff proliferates, the more likely people will act on it. This is why those who criticize Soros have a responsibility to do so sensitively & ensure they don't fan the conspiratorial flames. https://t.co/KQQdr4v5mx
— (((Yair Rosenberg))) (@Yair_Rosenberg) October 23, 2018
In a thread on Twitter, Eric Ward points out that we need to stop being defensive about the rise of anti-Semitism. It is here, and we need to deal with it.
It’s time to take a long look in the minor and understand that our continued defensiveness when it comes to antisemitism is threatening us all. #IAmGeorgeSoros
— Eric Ward (@BulldogShadow) October 23, 2018
Many people are pointing out how it’s simply not okay for liberals to keep joking about Soros. As writer Talia Lavin tweeted, “so now that someone literally tried to murder him can liberals stop making ‘ironically’ antisemitic soros jokes.” Similarly, Sophie Ellman-Golan, head of communications for the Women’s March, tweeted, “I think now is a good time for non-Jews on the left to stop making jokes about waiting for their Soros checks and instead to acknowledge the Soros conspiracy as antisemitism and commit to advocating against it.”
i keep thinking about how soros must feel on a personal level to have spent his whole life in service of the lessons of the holocaust and to be spending his last years hunted by the cultists of an increasingly unruly transnational far-right https://t.co/yZ48rbSdlG
— chris "death" hooks (@cd_hooks) October 23, 2018
Actual violence is happening because of these anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. It’s no longer funny. It’s time to recognize these Soros conspiracies for what they are — a danger to our democracy — and no longer treat them like a harmless, crazy joke.