By Felicia Schwartz
The new coronavirus pandemic is fueling anti-Semitic sentiment, Israeli researchers said Monday, as messages online and elsewhere falsely blame Jews for the spread of the disease and the ensuing economic impact.
Researchers from the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University, which released its annual assessment of global anti-Semitism Monday, said the virus that causes the Covid-19 illness had revived centuries-old habits of faulting Jews for things that go wrong, such as natural disasters, plagues, world wars and economic crises. Far-right groups, ultraconservative Christian circles, Islamists and the far left are seen as common sources of such accusations, the report found.
“Since the beginning of the Covid-19 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,” said Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said in connection with the report’s unveiling. “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.”
Others have echoed the findings of the Tel Aviv researchers. “We are already seeing coronavirus being used as a pretext for violent anti-Semitism,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League, which studies hate and anti-Semitism in the U.S.
European government officials have also begun to express concern about how the emergence of the coronavirus has coincided with a new tide of anti-Semitic remarks. “There are direct links between the current spread of the coronavirus and that of anti-Semitism,” Felix Klein, the German government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, said in Berlin earlier this month at the launch of a new government research project into the issue.
Gholamali Jafarzadeh, a member of Iran’s parliament, said on Twitter that the coronavirus’s progression “is not normal, and I believe it is a kind of biological attack by the U.S. and the Zionist regime,” referring to Israel.
And during a protest against the closure of a religious shrine in the Iranian city of Qom, a hard-line cleric dismissed directives from the World Health Organization because “they are a bunch of infidels and Jews.”
The Tel Aviv University researchers noted that other groups, such as Asians, have also been victims of coronavirus-linked hate speech. Religious leaders and white supremacists in particular have seized on the virus to attack nonbelievers or to make racist and hateful comments toward Jews and others, they said.
In one example of anti-Semitism in the Tel Aviv University report, Rick Wiles, a Florida pastor with a history of anti-Semitic speech, recently said in an online broadcast that the spread of coronavirus in synagogues in Israel is punishment for Jews’ rejection of Jesus Christ. Mr. Wiles did not immediately return a request for comment.
Ultraorthodox communities in Israel, the U.S. and elsewhere have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus because they live in crowded homes and have large families. Cut off from most mainstream communication, rabbis were slow to pass on messages about the danger of the virus and to encourage social distancing.
While 2020 wasn’t included in the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University’s annual assessment of global anti-Semitism, the group’s researchers cited concerns of Jews and Israelis being accused of causing and spreading the coronavirus. They warned the trend would boost the anti-Semitic sentiment that was behind a rise in associated attacks against Jews in 2019, when it recorded 456 such attacks, up from 387 in 2018.