If a person can be judged by their enemies, George Soros may be the greatest man alive.
Outraged by his Open Society Foundation’s £400,000 gift to an anti-Brexit pressure group, the anti-Soros forces are on the march again. And once again, the billionaire philanthropist humbles his screeching attackers with a response of understated defiance, by lobbing another £100,000 into the pot.
That is barely loose change, of course, when Soros’s net worth is reckoned at about $8bn, though it would be quadruple had he not donated $18bn to protecting free speech, increasing democratic transparency and resisting totalitarianism.
By that measure, his half a million quid to the rear guard against Brexit is symbolic. But then with the planet’s top-ranked liberal bogeyman, so much is.
He is himself a symbol of the human spirit at its indestructible finest, and of the comforting notion that out of evil emerges some good. Raised in Nazi-occupied Budapest, where he survived by pretending not to be Jewish, he came to devote his energy, intellect and wealth to opposing the savagery that created him.
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To others, he is a symbol of something different. To the sex pest Bill O’Reilly, alleged antisemite Glenn Beck and other current and former exhibits in Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News menagerie of monsters, not to mention that laureate of derangement Alex Jones, he is the sly, conniving Jew of timeless myth who lurks unseen like a serpent beneath a rock, manipulating the credulous in the sacred cause of creating – what else? – the New World Order.
Putting some flesh on that limitlessly disgusting bone, the alliance of race-baiters, neo-fascists, white supremacists and neanderthal misogynists we euphemise as the alt-right tailored a bespoke blood libel.
Wickedly distorting a biographical snippet about the 14-year-old Soros being a mute spectator to his gentile godfather’s work confiscating Jewish estates, Beck and his ilk portrayed him as a willing Nazi collaborator. Wilfully misinterpreting a line from a TV interview, the enchanting Ann Coulter accused him of identifying Jews to the Germans.
Others claim he “sent Jews to the death camps” and compared the pubescent Soros with Josef Mengele. A popular internet caption falsely identifies him as a bespectacled young man photographed in a Waffen-SS uniform.
Long before “fake news” entered the lexicon of cliché, the masters of projection perfected the tactic of turning the truth on its head to demonise its enemies. But however odious the “Swift Boat Veterans” 2004 twisting of John Kerry’s war heroism into cowardice to secure the re-election of air force dilettante George W Bush, flipping a Holocaust survivor into an traitor against his own people has the top plinth of the modern slander pantheon to itself.
The latest attack on Soros from our own Nigel Farage is subtler. He mentions in passing that Soros made a fortune (about £1bn) betting against sterling in 1992, as if that too was a form of treachery.
While appreciating that a former City trader such as Farage would find currency speculation distasteful, you’d have thought he would approve of Soros’s efforts to drive the pound from the hated European Exchange Rate Mechanism.
The main thrust of Farage’s critique is less detailed. Understandably bemused by somebody supporting a cause in which they passionately believe, Farage warns that “we all need to wake up to who George Soros is … he doesn’t believe in ‘nationalism’; what I call nation-state democracy. When much of the media is obsessing about Russia collusion, an investigation is needed into exactly what Open Society has done.”
Have your investigation by all means, Nigel, and the best of British with it. But one handy pointer to what Open Society does lies in its name. It, its aims and its activities, are open.
Unlike some plutocrats, such as the Koch brothers and the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who obtain support from politicians with campaign funding, and others who bully them into bonded servitude by deploying their media outlets as weapons, everything Soros does in altruistic pursuit of his many causes – gay marriage, preserving the sanctity of objective truth via rigorous fact-checking, the rights of persecuted Roma gypsies – is transparent.
He never sidled through the No 10 back door to dictate UK policy on the EU to the Prime Minister. Soros needs no defining by what he isn’t. He defines himself. But without diminishing him an iota, he is the anti-Murdoch.
If one of his causes is avoiding the Brexit he foresees as a disaster for the country that sheltered him after he fled Hungary (where the antisemitic Soros trope is rampant today), small wonder. He and what became the EU were forged in the same swastika-shaped fire.
Something else for which Soros is a symbol is the glory of immigration. Farage would have been disquieted to hear his Eastern European accent on a train when he arrived here with nothing. But with the indulgence of this country and later the US, he legally made a massive fortune. For spending the greater part of it on promoting the values of tolerance and humanity from which he benefited, his reward is to be depicted as a sneaky, malevolent Jew bent on subverting democracy and choking freedom out of the free world with his octopus tentacles.
Throughout all this, he has sucked up the poison without becoming poisonous. He never raises his voice to match the screaming of his detractors. He answers their distortions with elegant reasoning. At 87, he continues to fight for what he believes in with undiminished, unquenchable courage. Without feeling the need to roar, George Soros puts the lion in billionaire.