NEW YORK — When George Soros gave control of his vast charity to his son, Alexander, it was clear that the new 37-year-old chairman would follow in his father’s footsteps in many ways.
Alex Soros is known to work well with his father, the billionaire hedge funder, liberal philanthropist and Holocaust survivor who turns 93 next month.
“We think alike,” George Soros said about his youngest son when naming him in June as his successor at the Open Society Foundations, which distributes roughly $1.5 billion per year to an array of liberal causes.
Alex Soros is also the only family member on the committee overseeing Soros Fund Management, the family’s investment office, which is worth $25 billion.
Alex Soros declined an interview request, as did other Open Society Foundation staffers.
But some changes are evident. Alex Soros revealed one himself on the day of the handover announcement, saying, “I’m more political.”
George Soros, born in Hungary in 1930, was hidden as a child during the Holocaust. As an adult, he is not active in any Jewish institutions and has given relatively little to Jewish nonprofits. In 2007, he wrote, “I am not a Zionist, nor am I a practicing Jew.”
Alex Soros is also not a member of a synagogue, but he posts pictures from his Jewish holiday celebrations and has been active in progressive Jewish philanthropic causes. The first donation made by his own foundation, established in 2012, was $250,000 to Bend The Arc, a progressive Jewish group on whose board he remains today.
He has written and spoken extensively about how Judaism has shaped him, how he believes the Jewish community is developing, and how he hopes to shape Jewish philanthropy.
“Progressive causes, like the civil rights movement, are a part of the Jewish legacy in the US,” he said in 2012.
Alex Soros’ ascendance at the Open Society Foundations was not a given.
For years, George Soros’ older son from his first marriage, Jonathan, was presumed to be his heir: His middle name, Tivadar, comes from George Soros’s father, and he was president of the elder Soros’ investment firm for nearly a decade.
But he left after a clash with his father over hiring decisions and has launched his own investment firm, though the two reportedly remain friendly.
In addition to Jonathan, George Soros had a daughter and another son with his first wife, who was not Jewish.
Alex Soros is the older of two sons from George’s second marriage, to Jewish historian Susan Weber. While Alex praises his father and, in a recent social media post featuring a grinning photo, called him “the greatest,” he described his upbringing as difficult to the Wall Street Journal.
The elder Soros has a reputation for being controlling and for plowing through senior staff, both at his hedge fund and charitable endeavors. Alex, who grew up in New York City and a northern suburb, told the Journal he spent his childhood longing for his father’s attention.
“I was very angry at him, I felt unwanted,” he told The New York Times in 2012. “He had a very hard time communicating love, and he was never really around.”
In 1998, Alex Soros became George’s first child to have a Bar Mitzvah.He told Yediot Aharonot in 2018 that his father pulled him aside after the ceremony with some advice: “If you’re serious about being Jewish, you might want to consider immigrating to Israel,” he recalled being told.
Alex has said he grew close with his father after his mother filed for divorce in 2004, when Alex was starting out at NYU. But his trajectory toward heir apparent at first appeared uncertain, as he came into the public eye as a partier.
Then Alex Soros set about involving himself more intensely in his father’s charity. He traveled to the Amazon to meet with indigenous leaders and joined the board of Global Witness, a human rights group that focuses on victims of mining.
He also dove into therapy. “Growing up on the Upper East Side, going to a psychologist is like going to Hebrew school,” he told The New York Times in 2012.
That year, he launched his own eponymous foundation. Speaking to Philanthropy News Digest at the time, he made the case that his philanthropy did not mark a departure from his father’s. He said, “Probably my own concern with the Jewish community comes from him [George Soros] as well.”
As he grew his philanthropic profile, Alex Soros also followed in his mother’s footsteps, earning a doctoral degree in history.
His 2018 dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley, had a title that, according to the Wall Street Journal, delighted his father: “Jewish Dionysus: Heine, Nietzsche and the Politics of Literature.”
Alex Soros observes Passover and the High Holidays with his mother. In addition to Bend The Arc, he is on the board of the Center for Jewish History, based in New York City.
Over time, the younger Soros also built a social media presence. Judaism plays a role. On Chanukah in 2020, he posted on Instagram what he said was “one of the greatest Bar Mitzvah gifts I received,” a menorah made of dancing robots.
Earlier this month, he posted a photo of himself with his arm around New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the Democratic majority leader.
“With the man, many, including Robert A. Caro, have called the Jewish LBJ,” he wrote, referencing President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s biographer.
He also posted an encomium for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she died at the onset of Rosh Hashanah in 2020, writing that according to Jewish tradition someone who dies on the holiday “is a person of great righteousness or a tzaddik.”
Simon Greer, who founded Bend the Arc, has said that George Soros was never apologetic about his Judaism, Greer said, but was typical of an older generation who tended not to speak publicly about it. Alex is of a generation that is happy to broadcast identity, Jewish and otherwise.
“Think about that generation of Jews who immigrated here and they wanted to be American . . . They wanted us to believe in being Jewish but weren’t going to practice it [Judaism] the way maybe they had as kids.”
Alex Soros, Greer said, convened a meeting in 2017 at Chatham House, a research institute in London, to tackle rising anti-Semitism.
“My father, George Soros, lost family members in the Holocaust,” he wrote in a CNN op-ed last month applauding the Biden administration’s plan to combat anti-Semitism. “And for him, those experiences — of being ‘the other,’ of being hated for something that he couldn’t control — helped fuel his philanthropic career, and his dedication to help others fight for a life free from fear.”
The elder Soros’ philanthropy has focused on pro-democracy efforts in the former Communist bloc and elsewhere, and has focused on Democratic politics and criminal justice reform in the US.
George Soros has rarely donated to Jewish causes and some of his pronouncements on Jews and Israel have sparked backlash from Jewish leaders.
In 2003, George Soros told a gathering of the Jewish Funders Network that there was “a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the [Ariel] Sharon administration [in Israel] contribute to that.”
Those comments elicited outrage from some Jewish figures such as then-ADL head Abraham Foxman, who said Soros was “blaming the victim for all of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s ills.”
In a 2007 essay in the New York Review of Books, Soros wrote of the “pervasive influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee” and added that the group’s conduct lent “some credence” to anti-Semitic claims of an “all-powerful Zionist conspiracy.”
A year later, he would provide approximately $750,000 in seed funding to J Street, founded as a liberal alternative to AIPAC. Last year, he donated $1 million to J Street’s Super PAC.
In 2016, years after his role in his father’s charitable giving had intensified, hacked emails showed that the Open Society Foundation backed groups that aimed to work on “challenging Israel’s racist and anti-democratic policies.”
The foundation’s Arab regional office in 2015 praised a 2007 initiative to create a binational (Arab-Israel) constitution for Israel. In his interview with Yediot, Alex Soros said he opposes BDS, and said the Open Society Foundations’ Arab office makes funding decisions autonomously.
“I was disappointed by the Israeli prime minister’s cynical conduct, his failure to help Jews and to stand behind them,” Alex Soros said of the Hungarian government’s anti-Soros campaign.
In his recent CNN op-ed, Alex Soros criticized the current Israeli government for its policies toward Israeli Arabs, its judicial reform, its authorization of settlements on the West Bank and some of its Cabinet ministers.
He has visited the country several times, the Wall Street Journal recently reported.
In addition to being elected chairman of OSF in December, he is also president of Democracy PAC, George Soros’ political action committee that made him the leading donor to Democrats in last year’s midterm elections.
At the end of June, Alex Soros announced 40% cuts to the foundation’s staff of about 500, Bloomberg News reported.
He also told the Wall Street Journal that he plans to invest more heavily in political causes such as abortion or voting rights.
In 2016, he urged Hillary Clinton to embrace progressive policies to win the Florida Jewish vote — and in so doing offered a glimpse into his looming future as one of the world’s most influential philanthropists.
“As a community, our response to improved fortune has been to do whatever we can to cast a wider net for other Americans,” he wrote in a South Florida Sun-Sentinel op-ed.
“When one looks through the history of progressive battles in the US from labor to civil rights, one has seen American Jews on the front lines.”