Glenn Beck draws criticism over latest Holocaust comments

Glenn Beck has railed many times against George Soros, a Hungarian-American financier and liberal philanthropist whom the conservative host dubs the "progressive puppet master."

But Beck ramped up his criticism this week on Fox News and his radio show, making comments about how Soros survived in Nazi-occupied Hungary that have provoked denunciations from Jewish organizations.

Beck said on the radio Wednesday that Soros—as a 13-year-old Jewish boy, living apart from his parents in order to avoid apprehension by the Nazis—"used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off. … It was frightening. Here's a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps."

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor, called Beck's comments "completely inappropriate, offensive and over the top." [See update]

"While I, too, may disagree with many of Soros' views and analysis on the issues, to bring in this kind of innuendo about his past is unacceptable," Foxman said. "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."

Soros has spoken publicly about how he escaped the death camps by posing as a member of a Christian family. The teenager did accompany his protector, whose job was to confiscate property from Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary.

Steve Kroft, in a 1998 "60 Minutes" interview, told Soros that it sounded like "an experience that would send lots of people to the psychiatric couch for many, many years." But Soros said that he doesn't feel guilty for what happened because "whether I was there or not, I was only a spectator; the property was being taken away."

Beck, who on Tuesday described Soros' actions in the 1940s on Fox News, also claimed not to be "making a judgment" and acknowledged that the teenage Soros "was surviving."

Fox News defended Beck on Thursday in a statement to the New York Times.

Joel Cheatwood, a senior vice president at Fox News, told the Times that "information regarding Mr. Soros's experiences growing up were taken directly from his writings and from interviews given by him to the media, and no negative opinion was offered as to his actions as a child."

It's not the first time Cheatwood has defended Beck this year before over comments relating to the Holocaust.

The Upshot reported in August that Cheatwood and Fox News Chief Executive Roger Ailes met privately with three Jewish leaders over Beck's comments about the Holocaust. (Beck has a habit of referencing Nazis, Hitler and the Holocaust, as the Washington Post pointed out in July).

Simon Greer, chief executive of the liberal Jewish Funds for Justice, told The Upshot at the time that Ailes and Cheatwood acknowledged that Beck crossed a line when comparing Greer's views to those of the Nazis. Greer praised Ailes and Cheatwood, saying that "they took things very seriously, and I have a lot of respect for that."

But Fox News disagreed with Greer's takeaway. Fox News representatives didn't respond to requests for comment before publication, but Cheatwood—shortly after The Upshot item went online—contradicted Greer's version of the meeting in comments to TVNewser. "We absolutely stood behind Glenn Beck 1,000%," he said.

Greer said in August that after his meeting with Fox News executives, Beck sent him a handwritten note regarding the discussion with Cheatwood and that he intended to keep the message private. But because of Beck's latest Holocaust remarks, Greer is now revealing the contents of the letter. It reads: "Simon, Joel shared the details of your meeting yesterday. Please know that I understand the sensitivity and sacred nature of this dark chapter in Human History. Thank you for your candor and helpful thoughts."

Greer's organization has also been critical of Beck this week. In a statement, Greer said that Beck had "grotesquely" mischaracterized Soros' experience hiding from the Nazis and is now "engaged in a form of Holocaust revisionism."

By phone, Greer reiterated that he hadn't intended to reveal the contents of Beck's letter. But for Greer, Beck's remarks about Soros "made a mockery of whatever sensitivity he's claimed he has had." Since he's "trying to attack a 13-year-old as sending his people to death camps," Greer said, "I don't owe him any debt to keep the communication personal."

A Fox News spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

UPDATE: Speaking of private letters, Beck's site The Blaze just published a letter that Foxman wrote to the host in October. Foxman described Beck as a "friend of the Jewish people, and a friend of Israel." (11.12.2010, Michael Calderone) [Ed. note: S (a.k.a. George Soros)

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