It’s not often that George Soros, the billionaire financier and philanthropist, makes an appearance before a Jewish audience.
It’s even rarer for him to use such an occasion to talk about Israel, Jews and his own role in effecting political change.
So when Soros stepped to the podium Nov. 5 to address those issues at a conference of the Jewish Funders Network, audience members were listening carefully.
Many were surprised by what they heard.
When asked about anti-Semitism in Europe, Soros, who is Jewish, said European anti-Semitism is the result of the policies of Israel and the United States.
“There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that,” Soros said. “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,” he said. “I can’t see how one could confront it directly.”
That is a point made by Israel’s most vociferous critics, whom some Jewish activists charge with using anti-Zionism as a guise for anti-Semitism.
The billionaire financier said he, too, bears some responsibility for the new anti-Semitism, citing a speech by Malaysia’s outgoing prime minister, Mahathir Mohammad, who said, “Jews rule the world by proxy.”
“I’m also very concerned about my own role because the new anti-Semitism holds that the Jews rule the world,” said Soros, whose projects and funding have influenced governments and promoted various political causes around the world.
“As an unintended consequence of my actions,” he said, “I also contribute to that image.”
In the past, Mahathir has singled out Soros and other “Jewish financiers” for financial pressure that Mahathir said has harmed Malaysia’s economy.
After the conference, some Jewish leaders who heard about the speech reacted angrily to Soros’ remarks.
“Let’s understand things clearly: Anti-Semitism is not caused by Jews; it’s caused by anti-Semites,” said Elan Steinberg, senior adviser at the World Jewish Congress. “One can certainly be critical of Bush policy or Sharon policy, but any deviation from the understanding of the real cause of anti-Semitism is not merely a disservice, but a historic lie.”
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called Soros’ comments “absolutely obscene.”
“He buys into the stereotype,” Foxman said. “It’s a simplistic, counterproductive, biased and bigoted perception of what’s out there. It’s blaming the victim for all of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s ills.”
Furthermore, Foxman said, “If he sees that his position of being who he is may contribute to the perception of anti-Semitism, what’s his solution to himself — that he give up his money? That he close his mouth?”
Associates said Soros’ appearance Nov. 5 was the first they could ever recall in which the billionaire, a Hungarian- born U.S. Jew who escaped the Holocaust by fleeing to London as a child, had spoken in front of a Jewish group or attended a Jewish function.
The one-day meeting on funding in Israel, which took place at the Harvard Club in New York, was limited mostly to representatives of Jewish supermacist foundations.