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Report: Coronavirus unleashed unique worldwide wave of antisemitism

The phrase " Zero tolerance for antisemitism " drawn on a carton banner during a protest against rising antisemitism. (AndriiKoval/Shutterstock)
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Prof. Dina Porat: The antisemitism generated by the coronavirus is fiercer and more intensive


A report published this week by the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University has highlighted the concerning surge in antisemitism directly connected to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the report, the antisemitism generated by the pandemic “is intensive and fierce, [and] has continued unremittingly for several months and reflects a high level of anxiety and fear in many populations.”

One of the main common elements that the report pointed out was the conspiracy theory and libel that “the Jews, the Zionists and/or the state of Israel are to blame for the pandemic and/or stand to gain from it.”

The report also stressed that coronavirus-related antisemitism “is propagated mostly by right-wing extremists, ultra-conservative Christians and Islamists, through their own media in various languages. 

“The phenomenon is reported by many central media channels: the social media, television, radio and the printed press,” the report’s authors wrote. “This new type of antisemitism, which partly reiterates classic antisemitic themes, includes conspiracy theories alongside medieval blood libels, now renewed in a 21st century format.”

Other uses of this antisemitism rhetoric include the use of the virus’ name by Islamists, who describe Israel as “the COVID-1948 virus,” in connection with the year the Jewish state was established, and “declaring that this is the most dangerous virus of all.”

The authors made it clear that coronavirus-related antisemitism “has manifested throughout Europe, in the Americas and in the Muslim world.”

In some of the cases, terminology linked to the Holocaust was used to describe lockdowns and coronavirus regulations Yellow Stars of David that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust were used during lockdown protests. Instead of the word “Jude” or Jew on the sign, the word “unvaccinated” was used instead.

Signs with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Make You Free), the slogan used on the gate of the Auschwitz death and concentration camp, was also used on posters during lockdown protests.

The report also pointed out the large number of online images circulating with the stereotypical antisemitic caricature of a religious Jew, which became highly popular during the Holocaust, illustrated with photos of the virus. Many of the pictures include slogans like, “It’s not the Chinese. It’s the Jew Flu.”

Another picture circulating on the Internet and social media includes a picture of the virus with a large nose sticking out of it – alluding to “the Jewish nose.”

Even more concerning, the report pointed out, are the direct calls by far-Right extremists “to attack Jews by spreading the virus among them. 

“For instance the rhymes ‘If you have the bug, give a hug’ and ‘Spread the flu to every Jew,’” the authors continued. “This trend reached a peak in a sign raised in a demonstration in the US: ‘The synagogues are closed – the gas chambers are open.’”

Signs with pictures of a rat, with a Star of David on the backdrop of the Israeli flag and the slogan, “The Real Plague,” have also been seen at protest in the US and circulating on social media platforms.

Commenting on the findings, Prof. Dina Porat, who heads up the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University said that these common motifs “perpetuate antisemitic accusations from previous generations and other global catastrophes, once again presenting the well-known image of the Jew.” 

However, she explained, “the antisemitism generated by the coronavirus is fiercer and more intensive, has continued unremittingly for several months, and reflects a high level of anxiety and fear in many populations. 

“This having been said, the situation should be seen in its overall context – in which others are also blamed for spreading the virus: first of all the Chinese, 5G antennas and the authorities who allegedly are not doing enough to stop the epidemic,” Porat continued. “Countries close down their borders, every foreigner is a suspect, and a country with relatively low rates of corona patients arouse speculations.” 

In April, the Kantor Center released a worldwide antisemitism report for 2019, which showed a sharp rise in antisemitic incidents, with violent attacks against Jews up 18% from 2018.

At the time, the Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress (EJC) warned that the coronavirus pandemic has also led to a serious surge in antisemitic incidents, especially online where Jews are being blamed for the pandemic. 

“There has been a significant rise in accusations that Jews, as individuals and as a collective, are behind the spread of the virus or are directly profiting from it,” he said. “The language and imagery used clearly identifies a revival of the medieval ‘blood libels’ when Jews were accused of spreading disease, poisoning wells or controlling economies.”

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