Anti-Semitism, like all ideologies, tells a story about the world. It’s a story about almost occult Jewish power, about cabals that manipulate world events for their own gain. In classic anti-Semitic narratives, Jews control both the elites and the masses; they’re responsible for the communist revolution and the speculative excesses of capitalism. Their goal is to undermine society so that they can take over. Through the lens of anti-Semitism, social division, runaway inflation, and moral breakdown all make sense because they all have the same cause. Nazi propaganda called Jews drahtzieher—wire-pullers. They constitute a power above and beyond ordinary government authority. “There is a super-government which is allied to no government, which is free from them all, and yet which has its hand in them all,” Henry Ford wrote in The International Jew.
If you know this history, you’ll understand why Glenn Beck’s two-part “exposé” on George Soros, whom Beck calls “The Puppet Master,” was so shocking, even by Beck’s degraded standards. The program, which aired Tuesday and Wednesday, was a symphony of anti-Semitic dog-whistles. Nothing like it has ever been on American television before.
“There is a crisis collapsing our economy—George Soros,” Beck said on Tuesday’s show. “When the administration and progressives look for a savior to step in and save the day—George Soros… He’s pulled no punches about the end game. It’s one world government, the end of America's status as the prevailing world power—but why?” Because, Beck suggests, Soros wants to rule us all like a God: “Soros has admitted in the past he doesn't believe in God, but that's perhaps because he thinks he is.”
Soros, a billionaire financier and patron of liberal causes, has long been an object of hatred on the right. But Beck went beyond demonizing him; he cast him as the protagonist in an updated Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He described Soros as the most powerful man on earth, the creator of a “shadow government” that manipulates regimes and currencies for its own enrichment. Obama is his “puppet,” Beck says. Soros has even “infiltrated the churches.” He foments social unrest and economic distress so he can bring down governments, all for his own financial gain. “Four times before,” Beck warned. “We’ll be number five.”
Beck went beyond demonizing Soros; he cast him as the protagonist in an updated Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
It’s true, of course, that Soros has had a hand in bringing down governments—communist, authoritarian governments. Beck seems to be assuming a colossal level of ignorance on the part of his viewers when he informs them, “Along with currencies, Soros also collapses regimes. With his Open Society Fund… Soros has helped fund the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic, the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, the Rose Revolution in Georgia. He also helped to engineer coups in Slovakia, Croatia, and Yugoslavia. So what is his target now? Us. America.”
Beck’s implication is that there was something sinister in Soros’ support for anti-communist civil society organizations in the former Soviet Union. Further, he sees such support as evidence that Soros will engineer a communist coup here in the United States. This kind of thinking only makes sense within the conspiratorial mind-set of classic anti-Semitism, in which Jews threaten all governments equally. And as a wealthy Jew with a distinct Eastern European accent, Soros is a perfect target for such theories.
To inoculate himself against charges of anti-Semitism, Beck hurled them at Soros, pointing out that he’s an atheist and a critic of Israel. He accused Soros of helping Nazis steal Jewish property as a teenager and of feeling no remorse about it. In fact, when Soros was 14 in Nazi-occupied Hungary, his father bribed an agriculture official to pretend that the boy was his Christian godson. Soros once had to accompany his protector to inventory a confiscated Jewish estate. Asked by 60 Minutes if he felt guilty about it, he said no, because he wasn’t at fault. The slander that he was a Nazi collaborator has proliferated on the right ever since.
It’s entirely possible that Beck has waded into anti-Semitic waters inadvertently, that he picked up toxic ideas from his right-wing demimonde without realizing their anti-Jewish provenance. Early on Wednesday’s show, Beck cited the “Prime Minister of Malaysia” on Soros’ villainy. As Media Matters pointed out, he was almost certainly talking about former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Maybe he doesn’t know that Mohamad also said, “We do not want to say that this is a plot by the Jews, but in reality it is a Jew who triggered the currency plunge, and coincidentally Soros is a Jew.”
“There’s a difference between first-degree murder and vehicular homicide, which is intentionality,” says J.J. Goldberg, a columnist and former editor in chief of The Forward, America’s leading Jewish newspaper. Goldberg wasn’t convinced that Beck meant to attack Jews. Nevertheless, he described the show as “as close as I’ve heard on mainstream television to fascism.”
On Thursday morning, the Anti-Defamation League, which exists to combat anti-Semitism, finally condemned Beck. Earlier, I’d criticized the group for its silence, a change that Todd Gutnick, the ADL’s director of media relations, fiercely disputed. “Sometimes the ADL likes to consider what it’s going to say before it says it,” he said. “In this case we wanted to see the totality of what he was doing on the air before speaking out.” In a statement, Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director and a Holocaust survivor himself, expressed outrage over Beck’s charges about Soros’ behavior as a boy in Nazi-occupied Hungary, which Beck made on television on Tuesday and again on the radio Wednesday. “Glenn Beck’s description of George Soros’ actions during the Holocaust is completely inappropriate, offensive and over the top,” said Foxman. “For a political commentator or entertainer to have the audacity to say—inaccurately—that there’s a Jewish boy sending Jews to death camps, as part of a broader assault on Mr. Soros, that’s horrific… To hold a young boy responsible for what was going on around him during the Holocaust as part of a larger effort to denigrate the man is repugnant.”
Michelle Goldberg is a journalist based in New York. She is the award-winning author of The New York Times bestseller Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism and The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World . Her third book, about the world-traveling adventuress, actress, and yoga evangelist Indra Devi, will be published by Knopf in 2012.