When Donald Trump, joined by various conservative politicians and journalists, accused the Jewish billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros of paying people to protest the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, a number of liberal American journalists immediately cried anti-Semitism. But, notes James Kirchick, the truth is that Soros’s Open Society Foundations did give large sums to the groups organizing the largest and most prominent protests. Praising much of Soros’s work in Europe, Kirchick argues that in the U.S. he has chosen to back “some of the forces of illiberalism that threaten to rip apart [America’s] open society.” This discrepancy, Kirchik writes, must be kept in mind when determining if criticism of Soros is anti-Semitic:
When the [right-wing nationalist] government of Hungary, [for instance], launches an all-of-government crusade against a prominent Jewish figure, and does so in the midst of an already extensive campaign of Holocaust revisionism encompassing the creation of new historical institutes, museums, history textbooks, and a memorial in Budapest’s most prominent public square dedicated to whitewashing the country’s past crimes, it is unquestionably anti-Semitic. . . .
[By contrast], when American conservatives, who claim no such blood-and-soil fascist pedigree, and operate in a completely different sociocultural and political environment, assert that George Soros generously funds a variety of partisan Democratic and left-wing organizations—a well-documented fact, despite the protestations of the Washington Post’s “fact checker”—well, it certainly has the potential for being anti-Semitic, if those conservatives deploy traditionally anti-Semitic tropes. But the mere mention of Soros’s name in connection with the many political outfits he funds is not intrinsically anti-Semitic. Many American conservatives oppose Soros not because he’s Jewish, [but] because he’s liberal.
Moreover, writes Kirchick, Soros has been far from exemplary in fighting anti-Semitism himself, a problem not limited to his penchant for comparing the George W. Bush administration to the Third Reich:
There is more than a whiff of hypocrisy to Soros using charges of anti-Semitism, especially given his own use of the same tropes he decries as anti-Semitic against people who object to him. [In one public speech], Soros referred to Facebook as a “menace” in the process of creating a “web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined.” During a congressional hearing last summer at which Facebook executives testified, protesters hired by Freedom from Facebook, [a left-wing group that gets a sizable portion of its funding from Soros’s Open Society Foundation], held up posters depicting the company’s leaders Mark Zuckerberg and [Sheryl] Sandberg, [both Jews], as a two-headed octopus, the very sort of anti-Semitic caricature in which Soros himself often features [in Europe]. . . . .
[Moreover], while Soros has been extremely generous in funding a plethora of organizations and individuals committed to promoting the interests of practically every conceivable identity group, there is one in whose welfare he is utterly uninterested: his own. . . . “I don’t think that you can ever overcome anti-Semitism if you behave as a tribe,” he told the New Yorker in 1995, tacitly blaming other, unassimilated Jews for anti-Jewish bigotry. “The only way you can overcome it is if you give up the tribalness.” . . . As for the Jewish state, Soros believes pro-Israel advocates provoke anti-Semitism. . . . Soros, [in fact], contributes next to nothing to the fight against anti-Semitism, one he and his defenders claim to care so much about.