The Dual Viruses of 2020
by Noah Phillips
Per newly published reports, the coronavirus pandemic has brought about an immense spike in anti-Semitic bigotry globally, assigning blame for the pandemic and associated recession on the world’s Jewish minority.
Moshe Kantor, President of the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University noted, “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…The language and imagery used clearly identified a revival of the Medieval ‘blood libels’ when Jews were accused of spreading disease, poisoning wells or controlling economies.”
Jews are being scapegoated globally for implications of the pandemic, and seemingly no region is immune. In Scotland, a landlord referred to a tenant’s request for an alternative rent arrangement from coronavirus economic decline as “typical Jewish behavior.” In Missouri, white-supremacist Timothy Wilson planned a bomb attack on a hospital chock-full of COVID-19 patients after writing online that “this whole thing was engineered by Jews.” And in Ohio, a protest against social distancing policy featured Israeli flags juxtaposed with rats, and signs reading “The real plague.” Other prominent conspiracies cite Jews as profiteers from the pandemic, accuse Jews of operating the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), or Israel of already possessing the much-coveted vaccine and holding it until the most profitable instant. Even celebrations among members of the anti-Israel movement for every Israeli added to the mounting death toll. Merely a few disturbing incidents rendered inconsequential by the sheer volume of anti-Semitism of recent weeks.
And in Iran, even government officials are joining in on the anti-Semitic conspiracies. A cartoon contest sponsored by the Iranian Health Ministry showed numerous submissions asserting Jews and America as the culpable parties in the spread of the pandemic. Iran’s outbreak is among the worst globally, with the military digging mass graves for deceased victims of the pandemic, and a government continuing to devote resources to military activities and international escalation at a time of a global health crisis. To spend money from the Health Ministry on a cartoon contest, then pin the crisis on Jews is yet another—however feeble—effort at continuing the regime’s propaganda and longstanding anti-Semitism.
Palestinian leadership similarly peddle blatant falsehoods about Israeli and Jewish involvement in the spread of the virus. “In his letter to the U.N. Security Council, Palestinian representative to the United Nations Riyad Mansour claimed that IDF soldiers are spitting on Palestinian cars and homes, and dumping trash, needles and used gloves between villages.” Without question, none of those claims are true nor have any basis behind them, but serve to undermine the willingness to cooperate of Israel during this time, offering medical support, supplies, and funds to Palestinians and hospitals.
Like on many fronts, coronavirus is demonstrating what we already knew on a magnified and terrifying scale. Global public health infrastructure was cracked prior to the pandemic, leading to difficulties beyond our comprehension in the race for makeshift hospitals, ventilators, and a bolstered national stockpile. The initial global assessment of the pandemic was bullish and incredulous relative to its true magnitude. And our previously divided world where anti-Semitism and bigoted behavior sprung up from political extremes, became a society in which hatred is as virulent and damaging as the coronavirus itself. Kantor’s report documented an already proliferating stream of anti-Semitism globally, with hate crimes targeting Jews increasing 18% from 2018-2019, a proportion sure to grow further under present conditions. Incidents with high severity surged from 387 to 456 in 2019 including hundreds of violent attacks. A trend already on the rise for years past coupled with a universal inhibitor like the coronavirus becomes a sure-fire recipe for disaster for Jewish communities in the year 2020 and beyond.