- NEW YORK (JTA) -- It's not
often that George Soros, the billionaire financier and philanthropist,
makes an appearance before a Jewish audience.
- Itís 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 Wednesday 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
- "If we change that direction, then anti-Semitism
also will diminish," he said. "I can't see how one could confront
- That is a point made by Israelís 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 last month's speech by Malaysia's outgoing
prime minister, Mahathir Mohammad, who said, "Jews rule the world
- "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."
- 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 advisor 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
- Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation
League, called Sorosí 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 Israelís
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, whatís
his solution to himself ó that he give up his money? That he close
- Associates said Soros' appearance Wednesday 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 philanthropic foundations.
- After Soros' speech, Michael Steinhardt, the real-estate
magnate and Jewish philanthropist who arranged for Soros to address the
group, said in an interview that Soros' views do not reflect those of most
Jewish millionaires or philanthropists.
- He also pointed out that this was Soros' first speech
to a Jewish audience.
- Steinhardt approached the lectern and interrupted Soros
immediately after his remarks on anti-Semitism.
- "George Soros does not think Jews should be hated
any more than they deserve to be," Steinhardt said by way of clarification,
eliciting chuckles from the audience.
- Steinhardt then gave the lectern back to Soros, who said
he had something to add to his remarks on the issue of anti-Semitism. Soros
then paused to ask if there were any journalists in the room.
- When he learned that there were, Soros withheld further
- Mark Charendoff, president of the group that hosted the
conference, said he was pleased overall with the Soros event.
- "We found him to be enormously frank, candid and
generous with his time," Charendoff said. "I would be delighted
if Mr. Soros would bring his passion, his brilliance and his resources
to a range of different causes that are important to the Jewish community."
- Charendoff is not alone.
- Regardless of what they think of his politics, most Jewish
activists likely would welcome Soros' participation in the world of Jewish
- Though he's ranked as the 28th richest person in the
United States by Forbes magazine - with a fortune valued at $7 billion
- Soros has given scant money to Jewish causes.
- Sorosí first known funding of a Jewish group came
in 1997, when his Open Society Instituteís Emma Lazarus Fund gave
$1.3 million to the Council of Jewish Federations, and when Soros gave
another $1.3 million to the Jewish Fund for Justice, an anti-poverty group.
- As much as Jews may not like what Soros has to say -
at Wednesday's meeting, he called for 'regime change' in the United States
and talked of funding projects in 'Palestine' - they are eager to get Soros
involved in giving to Jewish causes.
- "In many ways, this was an introduction for Soros,"
Charendoff said. "He remarked to me how impressed he was with the
quality of the people he met. We can only hope that this was a beginning
of an engagement with the Jewish funding world."
- Soros said he has not given much to Jewish or Israel-related
causes because Jews take care of their own, so that his financial clout
is better directed elsewhere.
- Steinhardt tried to correct him on that point, saying
the field of Jewish giving is not as crowded as Soros thinks.
- "Even if we were a crowded field," Steinhardt
told Soros, "I'm sure we could make room for you."
- During his speech, Soros announced that he would support
the 'Geneva accord,' an unofficial Middle East peace plan proposed by two
out-of-office politicians, Israelís Yossi Beilin and Palestinian
Yasser Abed Rabbo.
- That plan envisions two states along pre-1967 borders
and a shared Jerusalem, and is vague on the demand that Palestinian refugees
from 1948 be allowed to return to Israel.
- It was not clear whether Sorosí support of the
plan would involve funding. Beilin's office did not return a call seeking