Cultural Commentary: George Soros, The Peppered Moth
Roseanne Barr recently apologized to billionaire Holocaust survivor George Soros for claiming he collaborated with the Nazis.
By Harvey Blume
The story of the peppered moths of England is an oft-cited proof of natural selection. These moths were light gray until the industrial revolution thickened the air with coal soot and they darkened rapidly over a short period of time so as to become less visible to predators. Researchers even try to zero in on the exact date of the first mutation.
It’s likely impossible to pin a date on the blackening of the reputation of George Soros which, like most historical processes, has advanced in stages. But it’s equally impossible to avoid noticing that Soros has mutated, so far as his reputation is concerned, into something different from what he once was.
To be sure, he’s always had enemies and detractors. Vladmir Putin, for example, is always happy to deride him as one who “interferes all over the world,” destabilizing as he goes. Putin compares Soros to the “troll armies” Russia is accused of loosing on American institutions. But Putin’s attack on Soros is innocent when compared to how Hungary’s autocrat Viktor Orban zeroes in on him.
In a lead up to the April 2018 election, which he won by a landslide, Orban’s party Fidesz plastered roads and public places throughout Hungary with billboards showing a smiling Soros and the text: “Let’s not let Soros have the last laugh!” That guffaw pertains to the refugee crisis; Soros is seen as part of a conspiracy to throw open the country’s borders to a refugee tide that Orban has characterized as nothing less than an army of “Muslim invaders.” If that horde crashed the gates, Hungary would no longer be able to pride itself as Christian, heterosexual, and white.
It’s odd, of course, to think of Soros, a Jew, as opening the gates to an army of Muslim invaders. But things get odder still when Orban gives Soros his full attention:
We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. . . Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.
In recent years a lot of the controversy about Jews and Judaism has revolved around the issue of Zionism, so it’s fascinating to see Orban cutting through all that. Zionism does not concern him, Israel and its contradictions do not galvanize his enmity. What galls him is something older and more savage, the “enemy that is different from us” — quite simply the Jew, the Jew qua Jew.
This is where the blackening of George Soros has led. He is no longer only the billionaire meddler and destabilizer par excellence, the advocate of open societies whose threatening tentacles extend worldwide. No, he has shed the decadent attributes of Zionism, Popperism, political liberalism, and philanthropy. He stands revealed in his truth — a misfortune for the people, to be sure, but a misfortune of nearly supernatural potency. Once he is revealed in his demonic majesty even other Jews will fear him, or at least desist from rallying to his cause, to fight to reverse the blackening. Some Jews, in fact, contribute to the staining.
Benjamin Netanyahu, for example, might have called out to Orban, “Hey, take a look, here I stand, prime minister of Israel, the Jewish homeland you can’t see.” Instead, Netanyahu called Orban after the election to congratulate him without referring to how much that victory owed to revivified anti-Semitism. Netanyahu’s sympathy for Orban becomes a bit more comprehensible if you remember that Netanyahu has had his own problems with Soros, who funds NGOs such as B’Tselem that defend Palestinian rights in Israel.
When blackening reaches a certain pitch and the victim fulfills the function of universal scapegoat, why shouldn’t such a perfect scapegoat be of use to other Jews, too? Right? As it happens, Netanyahu’s son, Yair, posted an image, since removed, on Facebook, depicting Soros as the unmistakable Jewish eminence behind many of his father’s legal woes.
And then there is Roseanne Barr. That her diatribe against Soros who, she said, “turned in his fellow Jews 2 be murdered in German concentration camps & stole their wealth.” is calumny multiplied by sheer idiocy does not mean it’s insignificant. Calumny times idiocy goes a long way on the alt-right, and the alt-right goes a long way in Trump’s America.
Given all this I offer, as relief, the interview I did with George Soros in the relatively becalmed days of 2006. How low key it was in comparison to what’s been made of him, how sedate. Soros and I talked philosophy and how, to escape the coils of its abstractions, he “decided to quit and devote myself to making money.”
The blackening came later.
Harvey Blume is an author—Ota Benga: The Pygmy At The Zoo—who has published essays, reviews, and interviews widely, in The New York Times, Boston Globe, Agni, The American Prospect, and The Forward, among other venues. His blog in progress, which will archive that material and be a platform for new, is here. He contributes regularly to The Arts Fuse, and wants to help it continue to grow into a critical voice to be reckoned with.