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By Barry Rubin
I’ve long pondered the bizarre doings of billionaire financier George Soros, who’s become the single biggest funder of left-wing and often anti-Jewish (certainly, anti-Israel) causes in Europe and North America. Most recently, it was revealed that Soros was a huge contributor to the anti-Israel J Street group even though the organization had lied about that connection.
But how can one explain the behavior and motives of Soros. For me, finally, the missing piece of the puzzle has fallen into place.
The first key bit of evidence was Soros’s interview with the December 20, 1998, “Sixty Minutes” television show in which he recounts his experiences as a 14-year-old boy in Nazi-occupied Hungary, a time when he said his “character was made.” Soros’ father had sent him to live with a bribed Christian government official who was involved in confiscating Jewish property.
A lot of the discussion about this interview has been misdirected over whether Soros was in some way a war criminal. This is clearly untrue since he was barely a teenager and didn’t actually do anything but observe. He was as he describes himself, a “spectator.”
Let’s get a more sophisticated, accurate understanding by examining what Soros actually said about the experience long afterward. What did he learn from being a spectator, watching both sides but truly being on neither side?
Did watching the extinction of his fellow Jews in Hungary make him feel guilty? No, Soros replied. This is an extraordinary answer. It was decades later and Soros could have done the polite social thing, which would have made him look better, of pretending to feel bad about it.
Soros didn’t emphasize, though he mentioned as a passing afterthought, that he didn’t feel guilty because he did nothing wrong. But what about survivor’s guilt, something almost anyone Jewish would feel when he survived and so many others didn’t? Again, no, said Soros.
Soros showed precisely why he didn’t feel or even pretend to feel guilty. When the astonished interviewer asked whether Soros might have thought, “`I’m Jewish and here I am, watching these people go. I could just as easily be there. I should be there?”
Soros’ response is truly extraordinary:
“Well, of course I c–I could be on the other side or I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away. But there was no sense that I shouldn’t be there, because that was–well, actually, in a funny way, it’s just like in markets–that if I weren’t there–of course, I wasn’t doing it, but somebody else would–would–would be taking it away anyhow.”
Notice how he stutters, no longer the powerful multimillionaire who shakes countries but rather reverting back to the frightened, helpless little boy, his life endangered because he is a Jew. Unlike almost every other Jew in Europe, however, he has a choice.
Does he blame the Nazis and Hungarian fascists or the Jews for putting him in that perilous position? Who does he identify with? What conclusions does he draw about how to ensure his survival in future? Soros tells us clearly:
“I could be on the other side or I could be the one from whom the thing was being taken away.”
For me, this is the key to Soros and his behavior today. He would choose to stand with those he sees as winners not losers; strong, not weak; the non-Jews rather than the Jews, the determined extremists rather than the toothless moderates. After all, that choice had been the basis of his survival. What is most important is that Soros survive and prosper, and his background gives him a very different outlook from most Jews and most rich people on how to achieve that goal.
Yet he is no confident mogul but a very frightened man. In this, he is less unique. Non-Jews don’t understand how inside of even the most seemingly powerful Jews—Henry Kissinger offers a prime example—there is a strong sense of fear and vulnerability. One misstep, they think, and everything he has could all be taken away instantly.
Being too much of a Jew is something you will rue. The more visible your wealth and power, the more danger to you. That kind of thinking stems not merely from the Nazi era but is a Jewish condition that goes back to the Middle Ages, when at any second a lifetime of hard work and success could be replaced by poverty, exile, beating or death by a rampaging mob.
How have Jews responded? Some by assimilating and others by being quiet, the kind of approach one might expect someone like Soros to take.
Still others by being defiant as Zionists or as proud Jews. Compare Soros to the man whose life most parallels his, Abe Foxman, long-time leader of the Anti-Defamation League, who was a hidden child during the Holocaust. Another option, becoming a leftist revolutionary, combines defiance of existing society with assimilation and abandonment of Jewishness.
The life of Soros, however, led him to a unique solution: convincing him that he must be highly visible…on the winning side. No longer could he have the anonymity of that fourteen-year-old camouflaged boy, but he could still stand on the safer side of the confrontation.
Read that key sentence again: “I could be on the other side [the Nazi side] or I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away.” In context, he is essentially saying that he could not imagine himself enough of a fool to be on the losing side and is determined never to be one of those helpless, doomed Jews.
And so, decades later, he sought to be on or buy off those he saw as the winning side. As for those on the Jewish side–and Israel being the most intense expression of that posture—they would be the losers in history.
Now comes the final piece of the puzzle. On November 7, 2003, almost five years after the television interview, Soros made a rare appearance at a pro-Jewish Jewish event, a conference of the Jewish Funders Network.
Asked about antisemitism in Europe, Soros responded that it was the result of the policies of Israel and the United States, and particularly of President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “If we change that direction, then antisemitism also will diminish,” he said.
Once again, his words led somewhat in the wrong direction as some of the attendees were outraged. After all, blaming Jews for antisemitism is an old argument of antisemites. But to focus on that is to miss the point. Soros continued:
“I’m also very concerned about my own role because the new antisemitism holds that the Jews rule the world,” he explained. He knew he is personally vulnerable to such charges. After all, Soros added, “As an unintended consequence of my actions,” he said, “I also contribute to that image,” no doubt referring to an incident of a few weeks previously when Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad referred to Soros personally in saying, “Jews rule the world by proxy.”
Moreover, he does implicitly blame the Jews, whose behavior beforehand
What did Soros say was the main lesson he had learned on those streets in 1944 Hungary? “That one should think ahead. One should understand and–and anticipate events and when–when one is threatened.”
So for Soros, religious Jews, Zionists, and in effect the overwhelming majority of the Jewish communities of the world are bringing disaster on themselves by provoking an antisemitic backlash.
His intention here is in no way to help the Jews (“the ones from whom the thing was taken away) “but to act in what he perceives as being his own benefit. Soros is not the first Jew in history to calculate that if Israel didn’t exist or that if the Jews merely shut up and hid their identity there would be no problem with antisemitism.
Similarly, he is scared that conservatives are provoking a leftist upheaval. Soros is insuring himself against the new winning side by financing it, believing that if America and Europe move ever leftward, this will reduce pressure against capitalism in general or at least protect his personal wealth. After all, why would the movement turn on its patron?
In effect, Soros reserves the phrase never again not in regard to Jewish suffering but in regard to his personally never being “the one from whom the thing was being taken away.” And meanwhile he can, ironically enough, arguably be the Jew who in the entire world came closest to ruling “by proxy.” All the more need for taking such protective measures.
It is true, as the expert on Soviet affairs Bertram Wolfe remarked about Leon Trotsky (who Wolfe regarded as a type of Jewish antisemite), “A man can reject his heritage but he cannot root the traces of it out of his soul.” But for Soros those traces are those of the loser in history. He regards Zionism and Israel as fantasies that will only build the momentum to return Jews to their traditional victim status.
Ironically and sadly, of course, by putting his money into anti-Israel and left-wing causes he is not merely anticipating events but making bad outcomes more likely; not reducing antisemitism but intensifying it; not ensuring social peace but making costly and tragic conflict more likely.
In short, unfortunately, what Soros mislearned from the tragedy he observed as a youth has made him a man helping bring about more tragedies. He was also wrong in saying that if he didn’t do these things someone else would. There is no one else to play this role because there is no one else who has his combination of life experience and bottomless riches.
Melanie Phillips has provided a list of causes backed by Soros’s main front groups that gives a sense of what the billionaire has been doing:
“•promoting the view that America is institutionally an oppressive nation
•promoting the election of leftist political candidates throughout the United States
•opposing virtually all post-9/11 national security measures enacted by U.S. government, particularly the Patriot Act
•depicting American military actions as unjust, unwarranted, and immoral
•promoting open borders, mass immigration, and a watering down of current immigration laws
•promoting a dramatic expansion of social welfare programs funded by ever-escalating taxes
•promoting social welfare benefits and amnesty for illegal aliens
•defending suspected anti-American terrorists and their abetters
•financing the recruitment and training of future activist leaders of the political Left
•advocating America’s unilateral disarmament and/or a steep reduction in its military spending
•opposing the death penalty in all circumstances
•promoting socialized medicine in the United States
•promoting the tenets of radical environmentalism, whose ultimate goal, as writer Michael Berliner has explained, is “not clean air and clean water, [but] rather … the demolition of technological/industrial civilization”
•bringing American foreign policy under the control of the United Nations
•promoting racial and ethnic preferences in academia and the business world alike.”
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.