Any Jew who knows their history is well aware of the tragic fact that along with any outbreak of a plague comes the finger pointing at Jewish communities. Indeed, this phenomenon of antisemitism is almost as old as the Jewish people itself.
The earliest antisemitic charge blaming Jews of spreading a disease came in the third century BCE. An Egyptian priest from Alexandria named Manetho spread a libel claiming that the Jewish people had actually been expelled from Egypt for being a nation of lepers. Since then, whenever a mass disaster struck, the response was to blame the Jews. When the Black Plague ravaged Medieval Europe, who was to blame but the Jews? Forget for a moment that Jews died of the plague in the same proportion as non-Jews or that European sanitary practices were abominable, because a scapegoat is always needed. And when people feel threatened, the need for a rational explanation goes out the window. The same thing happened during the Irish Potato Famine in the mid-nineteenth century. Then, Jews were blamed for the calamity that struck Irish agriculture despite the fact that there were well under 1,000 Jews in all of Ireland at the time! And as part of their vile propaganda, the Nazis painted Polish Jewry as being lice- and disease-ridden with typhus.
So it’s surprising to no one that come COVID the Jews would be blamed again right on cue. The only difference this time is how quickly and instantaneously such dangerous conspiracies can be spread around the globe. COVID antisemitism comes in several forms: the Jews are diseased and they deserve it; the Jews caused and spread the disease to gain financially and to disrupt global markets; and, the Jews should be purposely infected with the disease.
In short, the COVID antisemitism mutant virus spread across the globe at “warped speed.”
Jews Deserve It
In late March, Rick Wiles, a pastor from Florida who in January called the impeachment proceedings against President Trump a “Jew coup,” claimed that God was punishing the Jews with the virus for rejecting his savior. Twenty-four members of Congress sent a letter to the president demanding that Wiles’s propaganda outfit, TruNews, have its White House press credentials revoked, which begs the question how a site that regularly peddles abhorrent antisemitic conspiracies ever got credentials in the first place, and we’re left to wonder why the Trump administration has failed to respond to many pleas thereafter. Despite the antisemitic commentary of the vile Wiles through his “TV station,” their credentials have not been revoked to date.
In Brazil, on April 4, the manager of a Facebook page supposedly focused on the work of Freud that routinely denies the Holocaust, Olimpio Ferraz Melo, blamed Jews for COVID and all plagues.
Jews Did It
Joining the chorus, the nefarious David Duke, formerly the leader of the KKK, lost no time in adding his invective to the conversation by insisting that it was global Jewry and Zionism that sought to undermine global affairs while gaining financially. Classic antisemitism.
In Toronto, on April 8, graffiti that read “blame the Jews” was found scrawled on the garage doors of a private home.
Also in April, David Icke, an unabashed antisemite and peddler of loony conspiracy theories suggested that not only was 5G technology responsible for COVID without offering any evidence, but that, of course, it was created by a “cult” (*wink wink Jews, I see you) of “those who control the world” so as to oppress the masses and gain power and prosperity in the process. This video was seen millions of times on YouTube and even found its way to a Colombian TV channel on the site called ECTVPLAY.
Many enlightened antisemites followed suit by propagating such outlandish theories, peppering their tweets and social media posts with such hashtags as #IsraelVirus, #SorosVirus, and #NWOVirus which links medical research to a vast Jewish plot to benefit financially off the broken backs of the diseased and out-of-work masses. Classical antisemitism for the digital age.
A few days after it was reported that a Jewish man tested positive for the virus on a ship taking him from Uruguay to Argentina, local social media users flooded their accounts with such commentary as “He had to be a Jew,” “What would happen if 440 people die or are infected because of him? Would that be considered or the Mossad and DAIA [Delegation of Israeli-Argentinian Associations] will show up to his rescue?” And this gem, “A Jew does it and everybody has to shut up.”
Jews Should Get It
On April 21, the FBI released a report that warned of the intentions of neo-Nazi groups that were calling on their followers to purposefully infect Jews with COVID. This call to biological terrorism against the Jewish community came in the form of cutesie slogans like “If you have the bug give a hug,” “Spread the flu to every Jew,” and “Holocough.” It’s unclear how many people, if any, responded in kind.
The COVID Holocaust
Beyond blaming Jews in every which way for the virus, there’s been a major uptick in the gross misappropriation of Holocaust history to score political points. On April 8, the host of a news show on Sistema Brasileño de Televisión, Marcos de Morais, suggested that people sick with the virus “should be taken to concentration camps of health care,” a comment that earned him a fifteen-day suspension but nothing else. “To omit the use of chloroquine,” wrote the well-known Brazilian blogger Allan dos Santos on the same day, “is the same as leaving Jews in doubt between a shower and a gas chamber.” And on April 22, the foreign minister of Brazil, Ernesto Araujo, compared quarantine to life in Nazi concentration camps, only this time people were being tricked into believing that to “be trapped in this concentration camp” was for their own good.
Additionally, here in the United States, in places like Illinois, anti-government protesters complaining about being on lockdown compared their Jewish governor to Nazis and employed the dreadful phrase that hung over Nazi concentration camps, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” to make their point.
Rounding out the landscape, a host of antisemitic cartoons that blamed Jews for the virus or painted Jews as the virus proliferated. In one such cartoon, Agnes Buzyn, the former French minister of health who happens to be Jewish, was depicted as pouring poison into a well, harkening back to one of the oldest conspiracies spread through Christian Europe that led to innumerable pogroms. Another cartoon invites its audience to analyze the virus under a microscope only to find that when magnified it has the faces of the most grotesque Jewish stereotypes.
And obviously there was one group that just could not resist the temptation of casting the Jews as viruses: the Palestinians. A cartoon that appeared in a Gaza newspaper depicted the Israeli Star of David as having the coronae of the eponymous virus. Another one that appeared in the official Palestinian Authority daily paper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, depicted a Palestinian held with his hands behind his back by a corona-ridden Israeli soldier. And of course the notorious antisemitic cartoonist par excellence, Carlos Latuff (whose work was in the past promoted by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib), presented an elderly Palestinian woman who was as frightened as she was stuck between impassable coronavirus rocks and a hard place of cement barriers with Israeli soldiers and an Apache helicopter threatening her existence.
What Does It All Mean?
Let’s be clear, there is nothing that can be done about it. There is no stopping the propagation of any hate that has the advantages of the internet at its disposal. In certain countries there are legal remedies against those who profess or post such nasty content, but that does absolutely nothing to stop it from circulating all around the world and infecting many hearts and minds in the process.
What we can do is to accept the reality of antisemitism for what it is by beefing up the protection of our communities and institutions while bracing for the expectation of a bursting dam, an avalanche of pent up antisemitic frustration after the lockdown that has kept most antisemites off the streets and in their homes where they could only voice their hatred online. We will hold elected officials and all those tasked with protecting public safety responsible for upholding their sworn duties, and we will hold accountable those who fail to do so. 2019 is on record as one of the worst years for violent antisemitism in American history. 2020 was heading in the same direction before the virus outbreak, and we have every indication that it will get much worse when those perennially infected with antisemitism are let loose on society.
In the not too distant future, a cure for COVID will eventually be found. But a cure for stupidity, ignorance, and hate likely never will.