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Beck under fire over Soros comments

Fox News provocateur Glenn Beck spent spent several days taking aim at billionaire businessman and philanthropist George Soros, but so far — at least within Jewish circles — the barrage appears to be backfiring.

On his radio and TV shows last week, Beck portrayed Soros as running a shadow government bent on controlling the global economy. Some liberal pundits and organizations responded by accusing Beck of relying on anti-Semitic tropes. But the widest range of condemnations came in response to Beck’s Nov. 10 comments on Soros’ childhood activities during the Holocaust:

“And George Soros used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off,” Beck said. “And George Soros was part of it. He would help confiscate the stuff. It was frightening.

“Here’s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps. And I am certainly not saying that George Soros enjoyed that, even had a choice. I mean, he’s 14 years old. He was surviving. So I’m not making a judgment. That’s between him and God. As a 14-year-old boy, I don’t know what you would do.”

In fact Soros, then 13 and living under the protection of a non-Jewish Hungarian, on one occasion joined the older man when he was ordered by Nazis to inventory the estate of a Hungarian Jew who had fled. On another occasion, the local Jewish council had ordered Soros to deliver letters to local lawyers. Soros’ father, Tivadar, realized the letters were to Jewish lawyers and meant to expedite their deportation. He told his son to warn the targets to flee and ended the boy’s work with the council.

Soros, 80, has been slammed in some Jewish circles over his calls for increased U.S. engagement in the Middle East peace process and his strong criticism of Israeli policies. In recent months, some pro-Israel advocates and pundits have ripped J Street for accepting his money and lying about it. And during the Bush administration, it was Soros who was accused of unfairly playing the Holocaust card when he compared the Bush administration to the Nazi and communist regimes.

This time around, though, the loudest Jewish voices belong to those defending Soros from Beck’s attacks.

“This is the height of ignorance or insensitivity, or both,” said Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League.

“As a kid, at 6, I spit at Jews — does that make me part of the Nazi machine?” Foxman said, referring to the fact that as a child he was protected by non-Jews who had not revealed his background to him. “There’s an arrogance here for Glenn Beck, a non-Jew, to set the standards of what makes a good Jew.”

Elan Steinberg, the vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, called Beck’s attack “improper.”

“When you make a particularly monstrous accusation such as this, you have to have proof,” he said. “I have seen no proof.”

In the clearest sign that Beck may have overreached within Jewish circles, Jonathan Tobin of the conservative journal Commentary also took to the blogosphere to slam Beck.

“Political commentary that reduces every person and every thing to pure black and white may be entertaining, but it is often misleading,” wrote Tobin, who noted that he and his publication can usually be found in the camp of those bashing Soros. “There is much to criticize about George Soros’s career, and his current political activities are troubling. But Beck’s denunciation of him is marred by ignorance and offensive innuendo.”

Tobin echoed some liberal pundits in accusing Beck of taking Soros’ comments out of context, including a recording of the philanthropist discussing his efforts to undermine various governments. According to Tobin, Beck failed to make clear that Soros was talking about his support of Cold War-era dissidents in the Soviet Union and Soviet satellite states.

“In other words,” Tobin wrote, “while Soros’s current politics is abhorrent, he was one of the good guys when it came to the fight against Soviet Communism.”

Beck used the Nov. 12 edition of his radio show to defend himself against claims of anti-Semitism by describing himself as a “friend of the Jews.” He also argued that it was ridiculous to accuse him of playing up anti-Semitic stereotypes since he has spoken out against efforts to demonize bankers.

Besides, Beck said, Soros is anti-Israel. Beck’s co-host, Pat Gray, added that Soros was “probably anti-Jewish.”

During the same broadcast, Beck mistakenly claimed that the ADL was accusing him of anti-Semitism regarding the comments about Soros. In fact, Foxman and the ADL never used the A-word, instead calling Beck’s comments about Soros “completely inappropriate, offensive, and over the top.”

Unrelated to the flap over Soros, Foxman sent Beck an Oct. 22 letter apologizing for an ADL direct-mail piece that included Beck in a list of celebrities who had made anti-Semitic remarks over the past year.

“Even though we may disagree from time to time,” Foxman wrote, “I know that you are a friend of the Jewish people, and a friend of Israel.”

During his Nov. 12 radio broadcast, Beck also discussed having directed his staff to investigate whether any of Soros’ foundations or organizations had given money to the ADL. As it turns out, the ADL has denied receiving money from Soros. The organization did, however, recently organize a fund-raising dinner to honor Beck’s boss, Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp., which owns Fox News.

This is not the first time that Beck has found himself being criticized by Jewish groups over comments relating to the Holocaust. Several Jewish leaders confronted Beck after he said during the recent election season that terms like “social justice” lead to death camps.

In response to those complaints, Fox News president Roger Ailes and vice president Joel Cheatwood met in August with three Jewish organizational leaders: Simon Greer, the director of Jewish Funds for Justice; Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College; and Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Subsequently Beck sent Greer a note saying that he understood “the sensitivity and sacred nature of this dark chapter in human history.” Last week, in response to the broadcasts about Soros, Greer said that Beck and Fox had made a “mockery of their professed understanding.”

Greer sparked controversy following the meeting with Fox officials by claiming that they had sided with Jewish leaders. Fox officials and other sources familiar with the meeting disputed Greer’s account, saying that Ailes and Cheatwood simply expressed sympathy for their concerns but never criticized Beck.

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Amid Murdoch scandal, Israel backers worry about muting of pro-Israel media voice

Ron KampeasWorld
Published: 22 July 2011

WASHINGTON – Pro-Israel leaders in the United States, Britain, and Australia are warily watching the unfolding of the phone-hacking scandal that is threatening to engulf the media empire of Rupert Murdoch, founder of News Corp.

Murdoch’s sudden massive reversal of fortune — with 10 top former staffers and executives under arrest in Britain for hacking into the phones of public figures and a murdered schoolgirl, and paying off the police and journalists — has supporters of Israel worried that a diminished Murdoch presence may mute the strongly pro-Israel voice of many of the publications he owns.

“His publications and media have proven to be fairer on the issue of Israel than the rest of the media,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “I hope that won’t be impacted.”

image
Rupert Murdoch, left, with Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League at an October 13, 2010, dinner in honor of the News Corp. chairman. David Karp Photography

Murdoch’s huge stable encompasses broadsheets such as The Wall Street Journal, the Times of London, and The Australian, as well as tabloids, most notably The Sun in Britain and the New York Post. It also includes the influential Fox News Channel in the United States and a 39 percent stake in British Sky Broadcasting, or BSkyB, a satellite broadcaster. Murdoch founded the neoconservative flagship The Weekly Standard in 1995, and sold it last year.

Jewish leaders said that Murdoch’s view of Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians and with its Arab neighbors seemed both knowledgeable and sensitive to the Jewish state’s self-perception as beleaguered and isolated.

“My own perspective is simple: We live in a world where there is an ongoing war against the Jews,” Murdoch said last October at an Anti-Defamation League dinner in his honor. “When Americans think of anti-Semitism, we tend to think of the vulgar caricatures and attacks of the first part of the 20th century. Now it seems that the most virulent strains come from the left. Often this new anti-Semitism dresses itself up as legitimate disagreement with Israel.”

Murdoch, 80, has visited Israel many times and met with many of its leaders. In 2009 he was honored by the American Jewish Committee.

“In the West, we are used to thinking that Israel cannot survive without the help of Europe and the United States,” he said at the AJC event. “Tonight I say to you, maybe we should start wondering whether we in Europe and the United States can survive if we allow the terrorists to succeed in Israel.”

Leaders of a number of pro-Israel groups declined to comment for this story because of Murdoch’s current difficulties. On Tuesday he and his son, James, testified before a parliamentary committee in London.

Murdoch also has been seen as a friend of the Jews in the diaspora, even though Fox has irritated the Jewish establishment for championing at times what many Jews perceive as the margins of right-wing thinking — for instance, when Fox host Bill O’Reilly defended Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie “The Passion of the Christ.”

When some Jewish organizational leaders complained that Fox talk show host Glenn Beck was relying on anti-Semitic tropes in peddling discredited theories about liberal billionaire financier George Soros, Murdoch nudged Fox chief Roger Ailes into meetings with Jewish leaders. Beck left Fox last month.

Murdoch’s affection for Israel arose less out of his conservative sensibility than from his native Australian sympathy for the underdog fending off elites, according to Isi Liebler, a longtime Australian Jewish community leader who now lives in Israel.

“From my personal communications with him, it’s something that built up,” Liebler told JTA. “He’s met Israelis, he’s been to Israel, he’s seen Israel as the plucky underdog when the rest of the world saw Israel as an occupier.”

Australian Jews noted the pro-Israel cast of Murdoch’s papers as early as the 1970s, before he had established ties with the Jewish community. The word from inside his company was that Israel was an issue that he cared about, which helped shape its coverage in his media properties.

Robert Fisk, a veteran Middle East correspondent and a fierce critic of Israel who worked for the Murdoch-owned Times of London from 1981 until 1988, eventually quit and moved to The Independent because of what he said was undue editorial interference in his writing. Recalling those days, Fisk said Murdoch’s influence trickled down through editors who understood that he wanted his media to reflect his outlook.

“I don’t believe Murdoch personally interfered in any of the above events,” Fisk wrote recently in The Independent, describing the decisions that drove him away from the Times. “He didn’t need to. He had turned The Times into a tame, pro-Tory, pro-Israeli paper shorn of all editorial independence.”

In recent days, Murdoch has appeared wan and battered by the crisis that already has shut down a flagship paper, The News of the World, and scuttled his takeover plans for BSkyB.

The question circulating in pro-Israel circles is whether the empire’s pro-Israel stance will survive Murdoch.

“Is this curtains for pro-Israel Murdoch?” the London Jewish Chronicle asked in a column last week.

An account of a clash over Israel between Murdoch and his son and heir apparent was first published in the diaries of Labour Party publicist Alastair Campbell and has splashed through pro- and anti-Israel blogs in recent days.

Campbell, in an account republished last week in The Guardian, which has led the coverage of the phone-hacking charges, described a dinner at 10 Downing St., the British prime minister’s residence, in 2002, when Tony Blair — also seen as pro-Israel — was its occupant.

“Murdoch said he didn’t see what the Palestinians’ problem was and James said it was that they were kicked out of their f--ing homes and had nowhere to f--ing live,” the account in The Guardian said. Murdoch chided his son for using foul language in the prime minister’s home.

Liebler said that from what he understood, the incident was an anomaly and one that emerged during one of the most intense periods of Israeli-Palestinian clashes.

“He’s had differences with his son on many issues, and this happened once and it went off the map,” Liebler said. “I don’t think it was anything fundamental.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
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