Annual Diaspora Ministry assessment finds Jews and Israel are being blamed for pandemic, laying the path for continued animosity even after crisis abates
Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry has predicted a steep rise in anti-Semitic incidents around the world in 2021, warning in an annual report released Sunday that the coronavirus pandemic is being used — by Iran, among others — to spread conspiracy theories that say Jews caused the outbreak in order to profit financially from the ensuing chaos.
While the virus spread brought lockdowns worldwide that led to a decline in physical anti-Semitic attacks in 2020 and to zero deaths in such incidents for the first time in years, it also laid the ground for a rise in prejudice against Jews even after the pandemic is over, according to the report.
It said that “the rising rates of antisemitic sentiment are expected to lead to a significant increase in violence against Jews and Jewish sites in 2021. This is expected to challenge communities around the world, especially the American Jewish community.”
The report was published ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is marked on January 27 — this Wednesday.
“Throughout history, the Jewish people have served as an easy scapegoat for the world’s illnesses,” Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich said in a statement. “Antisemitic sentiment has unfortunately been on display during the current pandemic.”
In detecting an increase in anti-Semitism in the US, the ministry found that contributing factors were the country’s efforts to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, political friction “intensified by the recent election campaigns,” the spread of conspiracy theories, and other events such as the racial justice protests.
Jews in the US are aware of the changing dynamic, with nine out of ten American Jews believing there is a problem of anti-Semitism and eight out of ten believing there has been a recent rise in anti-Semitism, according to an American Jewish Committee survey cited by the report.
In Europe, local communities could face future challenges in the form of legislation that will impact their Jewish way of life. The European Court of Justice, by ruling that European countries can ban kosher slaughter even while permitting hunting, was for the first time since the Holocaust presenting an official threat to Jewish religious freedoms, the report found.
“This decision sets a concerning precedent and raises concern over other fundamental practices such as male circumcision,” it said.
There was also a notable rise in anti-Semitism in Germany, where from 2017 to 2020 some 380 cases were opened against German police officers who sympathized with the extreme right.
“Internal investigation [sic] discovered and exposed numerous cases of antisemitism and racism, including evidence of officers wearing Nazi uniforms and insignia,” the report said.
On the other hand, in Ukraine there has been “a welcome increase in public awareness of past antisemitism,” the report said, commending government ministers and major leaders for strongly and repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism.
Online conspiracy theories
The report said there has been a proliferation of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories online tying Jews and Israel to the coronavirus crisis.
“Jews, Zionists, and Israel are accused of having created, spread, financed, and used the virus to expand their global domination, impose a New World Order, but also as a means for profit,” it said. “Some also allege that the virus is a bioweapon funded by Jewish philanthropist George Soros.”
Anti-Semitic content is spread online, particularly by using the #COVID48 hashtag, which compares Israel to the virus, echoing past depictions of Jews as viruses seeking to take over the world. The report found the hashtag, used at least 250,000 times, appears to be an Iranian campaign and was used in a tweet by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Although there was a 50 percent drop in anti-Semitic content on Twitter from 2018 to 2020, the report assessed the decrease was likely due to users migrating to other platforms as the leading social media sites crack down on hate content.
Over 2.3 million anti-Semitic posts were detected online in 2020 from nearly 413,000 users in English, French, Arabic, German, Spanish, and Russian on Twitter, 4Chan, Bitchute, Stormfront, Gab, Minds, and 8Kun, the report said.
The top country for anti-Semitic content, based on the number of users posting material, was the US, followed by France, Germany and the UK, according to the ministry’s Antisemitic Cyber Monitoring System, which tracks modes, sources, and locations of online anti-Semitism.
The ACMS found that the highest concentration of users posting virus-related anti-Semitic tropes was in New York, followed by Paris, Los Angeles, Berlin, and Washington.
Characterizing Israel as COVID-19 “echoes the antisemitic ‘Jewish parasite’ stereotype which served to legitimize the persecution of Jews by the Nazis,” the report said.
“This indicates that the state of Israel remains an irrational object of obsession within the psyche of people holding antisemitic views, even in times of global pandemic,” it said.
The ACMS, which has operated for over four years, this year added Russian and Spanish monitoring in addition to the existing English, French, German and Arabic languages it uses to watch anti-Semitic discourse online.
“Antisemitism is an international sickness that can only be eradicated with a united effort,” Yankelevich said. “Only a dedicated and uncompromising effort will ultimately eliminate this virus from our midst.”