Philanthropy is a tough business. And these days, Jewish philanthropy is
tougher than ever.
Why? Because in spite of the still high levels of giving, reports show that
increasingly fewer American Jews are taking care of their own. Apparently, the
bulk of the money that once went to specifically Jewish causes is now going to
secular philanthropies or to prestigious causes that grant social status once
denied to Jews.
That's why groups are falling all over themselves in efforts to market
themselves to the large numbers of unaffiliated Jews. That is obviously a good idea
since there is much to gain from reaching this large demographic slice of the
Jewish pie chart.
But all this reinventing and strategizing causes some of us to wonder just
how far off the deep end many will go in order to please a constituency that is,
more or less, defined by its distance from Jewish identity.
This was brought to mind by the appearance last week in New York of
hedge-fund billionaire George Soros at a meeting of the Jewish Funders Network, a
gathering of Jewish philanthropic foundations.
Soros was born in Hungary and fled the Holocaust as a child before making it
big in this country. According to Forbes magazine, he is worth $7 billion. The
Washington Post, however, reported this week that he has already given away
$5 billion to various causes, though rarely to any connected to Jewish needs.
COVETING HIS MONEY
According to those who report about Soros, his speech to the Jewish Funders
was the first time anyone has seen him at a Jewish function, let alone speaking
at one. As such, Soros is the quintessential unaffiliated Jew whose money
But as those in attendance soon discovered, the problem with honoring such
people is that there may be a good reason why they've never dipped into their
fat wallets to help poor Jews or to defend the Jewish state: They don't really
care very much about us. Indeed, Soros' reported remarks at the event speak
volumes about just how dangerous great wealth can be in the hands of an
Far from sharing the general concern about the rise of anti-Semitism and
hatred for Israel throughout the world, Soros seems to think it is, at some level,
In his opinion, it is caused by "the policies of the Bush administration and
the Sharon administration."
His solution: "If we change that direction, then anti-Semitism will diminish."
Indeed, the only thing remotely connected to Israel that Soros said he's
prepared to support is the so-called "Geneva initiative." That is, the "peace"
plan funded by Europeans hostile to Israel and put forward by Israeli
politicians who were rejected by their country's voters. "Regime change" in Jerusalem,
against the will of Israel's people, is George Soros' idea of a Jewish cause.
All of which proves that while Americans have always believed that money
talks, there are some rich people who should not be listened to.
Soros seems to have internalized every anti-Semitic canard in the book.
First of all, Jews do not cause anti-Semitism. Anti-Semites cause it. The
source for hatred of Jews, which has always been defended by a variety of
rationales, lies within the tortured psyches of those who hate, not in the actions of
Jews, be they individuals or groups.
Anti-Semites have spread hatred and violence because they think Jews are
communists and because they think Jews are capitalists; because they are religious
and because they are assimilated. Take your pick. All are equally bogus.
In its latest incarnation, which hides under the guise of anti-Zionism,
anti-Semitism is justified by criticism of Israel's actions against the Palestinian
Arabs. If only there were no "occupation" or no Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon, we are told, the vituperation would dry up.
Nonsense. This hate has gained ground precisely during a decade when Israel
made unprecedented (and unreciprocated) concessions in a vain effort to secure
And now we are told by people like Soros and European intellectuals choking
on their own hatred of America that it is all President George W. Bush's fault,
in part for his strong support for Israel and opposition to Palestinian
leader Yasser Arafat.
"America under Bush is a danger to the world," Soros told The Washington
Post this week. Wrongly invoking his status as a child survivor of the Holocaust,
Soros added, "Bush reminds me of the Germans."
Echoing the thinly veiled anti-Semitism of many extremist critics of the war
in Iraq, Soros claims "neoconservatives" a common codeword for Jews are
trying to promote an agenda of "world domination."
Coming in a week in which President Bush made a passionate appeal for the
spread of democracy around the world including the Arab and Muslim world where
it remains virtually unknown such remarks are especially egregious.
Indeed, while representatives of Jewish charities were fantasizing about
getting Soros to back their efforts, the Post reported that the billionaire is now
concentrating his efforts on ousting Bush, not re-discovering his Jewish
So what difference does one obscenely rich, out-of-control mogul make?
In the big picture, probably not much.
All of Soros' money will never be able to persuade Israel's people to commit
suicide to win the love of Europeans. Despite the confidence of some on the
left, it won't convince American Jews to put their weight behind proposals
opposed by Israel's people. Nor will it, I suspect, help convince most Americans
that a Europe that stands for appeasement is right and that Washington's stand
for democracy and an unceasing war against terror are wrong.
ARE THERE ANY LIMITS?
But the willingness of so many Jews to bend their knees and tug their
forelocks in Soros' presence does trouble me.
Yes, Jewish causes desperately need help. And, by definition, fundraising for
worthy causes means putting our hands out to the rich. Many of those in
attendance at the Jewish Funders Network have nobly dedicated their lives and their
fortunes to aiding vital causes, such as Jewish education.
There is nothing inherently wrong with opposing either Bush or Sharon. But
there should be some limits to our willingness to kowtow to a man whose
statements are profoundly destructive to Jewish security, one who knowingly spreads
hatred against his own people. Rather than trying to mollify Soros, as many
appear willing to do, Jewish leaders need to stand up to him.
Yes, Mr. Soros, we wish we had your billions on our side. But if the price of
that help is to give you a facade of respectability that you haven't earned,
then my answer would be to keep your money. Kissing up to a man who justifies
anti-Semitism is just too high a price to pay for a donation.