By Maidhc Ó Cathail
In a February 3 Washington Post op-ed piece titled ‘Why Obama has to get Egypt right,’ George Soros wrote that the U.S. president had ‘much to gain by moving out in front and siding with the public demand for dignity and democracy.’ Notwithstanding the reasonableness of his advice, past experience suggests that the Hungarian-born hedge fund manager has something to gain himself from regime change in Cairo.
In his public memo to the president he helped elect, Soros noted that it was a “hopeful sign” that the Muslim Brotherhood was cooperating with Mohamed ElBaradei, whom he disinterestedly described as “the Nobel laureate who is seeking to run for president.” He neglected to mention, however, that up to ElBaradei’s January 27 return to crisis-torn Egypt, the former IAEA chief had been a member of the Board of Trustees of the International Crisis Group, which Soros, the thirty-fifth richest person in the world, helped create and finance.
The International Crisis Group describes itself as “an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict,” but self-descriptions can often be misleading. “The ICG is a fascinating case study of the way human rights organizations, governments and international corporations work hand in glove these days,” George Szamuely wrote of the influential think tank’s role in the Balkans. “‘Independent’ figures like Soros identify a ‘crisis’ demanding urgent government attention. Governments act on them and then parcel out the lucrative contracts to Soros and his pals.”
One of Soros’s more notorious “pals” is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former head of Yukos Oil, who by the age of 32 had amassed assets worth more than $30 billion in the rigged post-Soviet “privatisation” of state-owned property. When the oligarch was arrested for tax evasion, embezzlement and fraud in 2003, Soros denounced the charges as “political persecution,” called for the expulsion of Russia from the G-8, and urged the West to intervene. Khodorkovsky’s partner, Leonid Nevzlin, fled to Israel before he was found guilty in absentia of ordering the murders of several politicians and businesspeople that got in the way of Yukos’s expansion plans. Like Soros and Khodorkovsky, Nevzlin has since attempted to rebrand himself as a “philanthropist.”
Tel Aviv’s concerns about the loss of a friendly dictator next door, however, should be assuaged somewhat by the fact that ElBaradei could collaborate with the considerable number of Israel partisans at ICG. Former U.S. Congressman Stephen Solarz, who helped start the group, was once dubbed “the Israel lobby’s chief legislative tactician on Capitol Hill,” and in 1998 led a group of neoconservatives who urged President Clinton to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Fellow neocon Kenneth Adelman assured Americans in a 2002 Washington Post op-ed that the Israeli-induced invasion of Iraq would be a “cakewalk.” Even more reassuring for nervous Israelis must be the presence of Nahum Barnea, the prominent Israeli columnist who sharply criticised fellow journalists Gideon Levy, Amira Hass and Akiva Eldar for their “mission” of support for the Palestinians.
And among ICG’s elite international list of senior advisers—defined as “former Board Members (to the extent consistent with any other office they may be holding at the time) who maintain an association with Crisis Group, and whose advice and support are called on from time to time”—we find Shlomo Ben-Ami, former foreign minister of Israel; Stanley Fischer, governor of the Bank of Israel; and Shimon Peres, current president of Israel.
On the face of it, it seems hard to reconcile the substantial pro-Israel presence at ICG with Soros’s claims to be a “non-Zionist.” But things are seldom what they seem with Soros. Two years after the founding of J Street, it emerged that he had given substantial donations to the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby. Not everyone is convinced by J Street’s claims to be a genuine alternative to AIPAC either. As one astute commentator put it, J Street is “little more than a spin-off of the existing Israel Lobby to make it more palatable to the liberal Democrats that make up the Obama Administration.”
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Moreover, some of Israel’s most fervent advocates on Capitol Hill have received donations from Soros, who has become “one of the largest political-campaign contributors in American history.” In an interview with a conservative Jewish radio talk show, Senator Charles Schumer said he believed that HaShem (Orthodox Jewish term for “God”) gave him his name—which means “guardian”—so that he could fulfill his “very important” role in the U.S. Senate as a “guardian of Israel.”
Essentially filling the same role in the House of Representatives until 2008 was the late Congressman Tom Lantos, whom a former U.S. diplomat referred to as “the Hungarian-American guardian of Israel’s interests in Congress.” As co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Lantos knowingly deceived his co-chairman and the public about the identity of “Nayirah,” whose incubator atrocity story helped justify American intervention in the 1991 Gulf War. Lantos, who is said to have “shared a common drive for promoting democracy and human rights” with his close friend Soros, also championed the fugitive Nevzlin as an innocent victim of anti-Semitism.
“I hope President Obama will expeditiously support the people of Egypt,” Soros wrote in his Post op-ed. “My foundations are prepared to contribute what they can.” If the Egyptian people have as much sense as they have courage and determination, however, they will tell this self-described “committed advocate of democracy and open society” what to do with his “philanthropy”—and his Nobel laureate.
– Maidhc Ó Cathail writes extensively on U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East. He also edits The Passionate Attachment blog. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.