For decades now, we have been told by liberals that criticism of Israel should not prima facie be considered anti-Semitic or even be used as evidence of anti-Semitism. Indeed, Jewish voices on the left like J Street even suggest that speaking out against Israel is a core Jewish value—that it is to be seen as fulfilling God’s commandment through the prophet Isaiah that the Jewish people serve as a light unto the nations.
It is true that criticizing Israel does not make the critic an anti-Semite. It is anti-Semitism that makes someone an anti-Semite—by which I mean offering a criticism of the Jewish state, or Jewry, or an individual Jew on grounds that are not applied equally to any other nation, people, or individual on earth. Neither is it anti-Semitism to criticize an individual Jew for actions and behaviors that have nothing to do with his Judaism. In such a case, to claim that the criticism is anti-Semitic is to use the charge of anti-Semitism as a shield to protect that individual from criticism that is perfectly standard and appropriate.
This is what happened in October with George Soros, the left-wing activist and philanthropist. As the battle to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was reaching its apex, Senator Jeff Flake was confronted in an elevator by activists demanding he listen to their complaints. Donald Trump issued the following tweet: “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!”
Trump’s invocation of Soros’s name here immediately set off a barrage of complaints alleging the tweet was anti-Semitic. In a piece that begins by stating Trump was no anti-Semite, the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen was at low ebb even for him: “What you have is not anti-Semitism with intent, but anti-Semitism nonetheless.”
Soros has come under vicious attack in Central and Eastern Europe by rising nationalists, and 20 years ago he was the focus of anti-Semitic ire in Malaysia for a hedge-fund play that tanked that nation’s currency. He was born and raised in Hungary and survived the Holocaust by hiding as a Christian and scrounging, doing what he had to do to survive. He did so and became a billionaire many times over. After the Cold War, he became a supporter of democratic voices in Hungary and elsewhere.
He also became a player in American politics and has, it is said, invested more than $300 million over the past 20 years in liberal and leftist causes. In a 2004 book, Byron York detailed the $30 million Soros contributed to prevent the reelection of George W. Bush. And what Trump said in his tweet was true—some of those activists in the Senate halls were indeed employees and volunteers of organizations funded by Soros, including the two women who confronted Senator Flake in that elevator.
But even had it not been true, there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about calling out Soros in conjunction with a coordinated and staged series of protests in the most contested ideological and partisan moment of 2018. He is to be commended for putting his money where his mouth is. But just as Soros’s generosity should not give him a free pass when it comes to the ideas and causes he promotes, neither should his own life history and peoplehood serve as weapons in the hands of others who wish to render criticisms of his causes null and void—or who want to score a cheap political point against a president who has generously provided his critics more than enough ready ammunition.