Criticism of George Soros is not by definition anti-Semitic
John Kass, the Chicago Tribune's star columnist, was demoted last week. For years, his column has stood in the same spot once held by the iconic Mike Royko. No more.
In the latest case of woke newsroom reporters asserting authority over opinion columnists, members of the Chicago Tribune Guild wrote to editor-in-chief Colin McMahon that Kass's position as the paper's lead columnist endangers the paper's overall credibility and the efforts of the newsroom to provide fair and diligent reporting. They demanded that Kass apologize for his "indefensible invocation of the Soros tropes."
For those unaware of what "Soros tropes" are, the Forward helpfully explained that Kass's column was a "diatribe against George Soros that invoked classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories."
That was a surprise to me. I have been reading Kass at Jewish World Review for years and never detected anything remotely anti-Semitic. Kass is no Royko — no one could ever be. But he evokes the same common-sense, man-of-the-people flavor that made Royko a must-read every day for Chicagoans. He's a product of one of Chicago's ethnic neighborhoods, without a college degree, who has spent his entire adult life working in newsrooms.
Puzzled by the accusation, I searched for the offending column. The subject of Kass's column, "An overwhelming sense of lawlessness," was the failure of one big city after another, led by Democratic mayors, to provide a sense of safety to citizens and prevent "once vibrant downtown areas [from] becoming ghost towns."
Along the way he takes aim at "left-wing billionaire George Soros [who] has spent millions of dollars to help elect liberal social justice prosecutors," and thereby "remake the justice system in urban America, flying under the radar."
Those prosecutors, Kass continues, "are among the few politicians in America who have delivered on their promises. They promised to empty the jails through the social justice warrior policy of 'decarceration.' They also help give repeat, violent criminals little or no bond when arrested."
To call that anti-Semitic is absurd. It is the same dishonest debating trick as labelling anyone who opposed Obamacare or the Iran nuclear deal a racist, as if nothing else could explain opposition to the president's policies.
Yes, Soros was born to Hungarian Jewish parents, though neither they nor he were proud of that fact. In a 1985 New Yorker interview, Soros describes his mother as "quite anti-Semitic and ashamed of being Jewish.... Being Jewish was a clear-cut stigma, a disadvantage, a handicap — therefore there was always a desire to transcend it, to escape it." He attributes his promotion of universal ideas to the desire to escape his particularistic, tribal Jewish identity.
The only Jewish organizations to which he gives are those devoted to criticizing and undermining the state of Israel or convincing young American Jews that the essence of Judaism is today's woke agenda — usually both.
No doubt there are anti-Semites and white supremacists who have taken note of Soros's Jewish origins, just as there were, no doubt, racists who could not make peace with President Obama.
But that does not mean — and this is the crucial point — that criticism of Soros is by definition anti-Semitic. It is possible to view Soros as a rather malevolent political actor without being anti-Semitic. I would put myself in that category. To assert otherwise is just another dishonest means of shutting down criticism of Soros's actions.
I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that not one of the Tribune staffers calling for Kass's head has ever written a word about rampant campus anti-Semitism or how Jewish students feel threatened. Or about the number of identifiably Orthodox Jews, many elderly, being sucker-punched by racial minorities in New York City and elsewhere.
And I'd similarly bet that not one has ever raised an eyebrow, much less protested, against Thomas Friedman's "anti-Semitism" for his numerous columns describing Sheldon Adelson's use of his enormous wealth to tilt American and Israeli politics his way.
KASS DID NOT MENTION Soros's religion. And every statement he made about Soros is factually correct. Andrew McCarthy, the lead prosecutor in the case of first World Trade Center bombing, laid out the same argument in detail in the March 2020 Commentary — a magazine long identified with the defense of Jews and Judaism — in an article entitled "The Progressive Prosecutor Project."
McCarthy notes that district attorneys possess vast power by virtue of the well-entrenched doctrine of prosecutorial discretion, which grants prosecutors almost complete control over what cases, even classes of cases, they prosecute. "[S]ocial justice warriors have grasped that control of prosecutorial power may be the most effective route to rapid societal transformation," writes McCarthy.
Yet district attorney races are generally low visibility races, in which the investment of relatively small donations can often swing the outcome. Soros and his allies have shrewdly noted both points and helped to elect radical prosecutors in a number of major cities, including Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco.
The common glue linking all these prosecutors is the belief that the entire criminal justice system is rigged against minorities, and is designed to keep as many blacks in prison as possible — i.e., the new slavery. That fact is established, in their view, by the disproportionate rate of blacks prosecuted and imprisoned. (The well-established counterargument that those rates are a function of the higher rates of violent crime committed by blacks is dismissed out of hand.)
To remedy this situation the progressive prosecutors would bring to trial fewer criminals and only on lesser charges than the facts would warrant, dramatically limit bail, and seek accelerated release for those convicted.
The first elected of the progressive district attorneys was Chicago's Kim Foxx in 2016. She gained national notoriety in 2019, when, at the behest of Michelle Obama's former chief of staff, she dropped charges on 16 counts of fraudulent prosecution against black TV actor Jussie Smollett, for staging his own alleged abduction by MAGA hat-wearing assailants.
Larry Krasner, Philadelphia's district attorney since 2018, has taken aim at minimum sentence requirements in Pennsylvania's penal code by simply refusing to include in his indictments factors such as violence, gun in commission of the crime, and the weight of drugs seized that trigger required minimum sentences.
During St. Louis chief prosecutor Kimberly Gardner's three years in office, there has been 100 percent turnover in staff, with the departure of 65 experienced prosecutors, and a miserable conviction rate of 20 percent in cases brought to trial. Gardner recently charged a white couple for brandishing guns at a mob that had broken down the gate to their property, invaded their lawn, and threatened to inhabit their mansion. At least one of those guns was incapable of firing, but Gardner ordered the evidence tampered with and the gun reassembled.
Chesa Boudin, recently elected district attorney in San Francisco, without ever having tried a case, comes to the position with unsurpassed radical lineage. As an infant, his parents, David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin, left him with a babysitter as they drove the getaway cars in an ill-fated Brinks robbery, in which three security personnel, including the first black police officer in Nyack New York, were killed. He was raised by his parents' Weathermen terrorist comrades Wiliam Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, early Hyde Part sponsors of Barack Obama's political career. Boudin's first job was as a researcher and translator for Hugo Chavez's regime in Venezuela.
He has quickly become the anti-prosecution prosecutor, establishing a special unit to defend undocumented aliens from criminal prosecutions that might result in deportation and another unit to reexamine past convictions for legal flaws, and announcing that his office will not prosecute "quality of life" offenses. The only group specifically targeted for prosecution are police for excessive use of force.
The greatest success for the ACLU's anti-incarceration campaign, to which Soros contributed $50 million, is New York City's abolition of cash bail for all "non-violent" crimes. Bank robber Gerod Woodberry serves as a poster child. He committed a series of six bank robberies, each time being released without posting bail for the previous offense. The threatening notes handed to tellers were deemed non-violent.
So were Tiffany Harris's physical assaults on three women at a Chanukah celebration in Crown Heights, accompanied by anti-Jewish epithets. She was immediately released only to sucker-punch another young woman in Prospect Heights the next day.
I wonder whether her victims would have thought John Kass an anti-Semite for decrying George Soros's efforts to elect radical prosecutors and empty the jails.