Photo by Majdi Fathi/TPS on 16 February, 2021

‘Judeovirus:’ In 2020 and Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Anti-Semitism Upsurge Experienced in Virtual World – Report

Jewish World By TPS • 7 April, 2021

Jerusalem, 7 April, 2021 (TPS) -- The Coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic brought to a drop in physical anti-Semitic attacks during 2020, but the virtual world online experienced an upsurge in ant-Semitic incidents, the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry said in its Antisemitism Report for 2020, published on the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Antisemitism Report for 2020 documented what it described as “contradictory trends.” On the one hand, its monitoring team saw a decrease in physical violence resulting from the reduced encounters between Jews and violent anti-Semites due to the lockdowns. On the other hand, accusations against the Jews, accused of being responsible for the pandemic, were manifested in a rise in blatant anti-Semitic expressions on the internet in general and on social networks specifically.

In addition, new Jew-hatred phenomena developed on the internet, such as zoom bombing and the darknet, which are difficult to quantify.

Professor Dina Porat, Head of the Kantor Center, explained that the pandemic and “the resulting reality dictated both the nature and extent of anti-Semitism in 2020, which was an unusually tense and turbulent year all over the world. Prejudice, superstition, primordial emotions, and bizarre theories surfaced on the scene, and manifestations of anti-Semitism, both verbal and visual, were vicious and outrageous.”

These incidents included blaming the Jews and Israelis for developing and spreading the virus, also called the “Judeovirus.”

“This notion is rooted in a deep fear of the Jew or Israeli as a spreader of disease in both the past and present,” Porat noted.

The report pointed out that blaming the Jews for the Coronavirus is “a graver accusation than any” previously made against Jews throughout history.

As the pandemic began to spread across the globe, it was immediately followed by accusations that the virus had been developed and was being spread by Jews and Israelis. The theorists claimed that the Jews are the ones who would find a cure and vaccine for the disease, selling it to the ailing world and making a huge profit. Over the following months, this libel spread rapidly. The monitoring team received reports to this effect from dozens of countries, in the form of aggressive messages and numerous malicious caricatures.

Moreover, the accusation was heard not only from extremist circles, such as white supremacists, ultra-conservative Christians, or the usual anti-Semites from Turkey and the Palestinian Authority, and especially Iran, which invested efforts in disseminating the accusation. It also spread to populations without well-defined political or ideological identities.

However, lockdowns in the various countries reduced encounters between Jews and anti-Semites, and consequently, the number of violent events declined from 456 in 2019 to 371 in 2020, a number seen in 2016-18.

No one was murdered this year for being Jewish, although physical attacks could potentially have had fatal outcomes, and the number of bodily injuries decreased from 170 in 2019 to 107 in 2020.

Damage to private property was also reduced from 130 to 84 incidents, mostly because people stayed at home.

In most countries, a decrease was registered in the number of violent incidents, attacks on both people and their property, threats and arson. However, vandalism towards Jewish communal property and institutions remained as frequent, and in some cases they became more frequent.

The number of desecrations of graveyards, Holocaust memorials, and other Jewish monuments rose from 77 in 2019 to 96 in 2020 incidents worldwide, and the number of vandalized synagogues, which were closed and became easy targets, also increased from 53 in 2019 to 63 in 2020.

In the US, a gradual rise in acts of violence has been observed for several years, reaching 119 in 2020 compared to 99 in 2017, and Germany also saw a significant escalation in the total number of cases, from a total of 2,032 in 2019 to 2,275 in 2020, including 59 physical injuries. In both countries, vandalism accounted for most of the incidents.

A significant decline was noted in Australia, the United Kingdom and France, where the Ministry of the Interior and the Jewish Community both reported a drop of 50% in all types of anti-Semitic incidents, due to the tight lockdown, as well as in Canada, where the number of violent cases dropped by more than half.

Most incidents occurred in countries with large Jewish communities: the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, France, and Germany. In all other countries, with the exception of Ukraine, less than 10 incidents per country were reported in 2020.

Since the public space was shut down during the pandemic and people stayed at home, activities on social media, including anti-Semitic activities, increased significantly, characterized by aggressiveness and verbal abuse. Such phenomena are inherently difficult to quantify.

In the US alone, 200 cases of Zoom bombing were registered.

Similarly, extremist groups, especially from the far-right, like white supremacists and neo-Nazis, left the open social networks and moved to the darknet, which grew significantly over the past year. There, they are free of any supervision or restrictions and can run their own websites, undisturbed. Consequently, the number of anti-Semitic manifestations on the open networks declined, while activities on the darknet intensified.

One phenomenon that emerged is opponents to the COVID-19 vaccines equating the restrictions and lockdowns aiming to contain the pandemic with policies of the Nazi regime, accusing the establishment and governments in various countries of applying means of coercion. Lockdowns were compared to incarceration in ghettos and concentration camps, vaccines were described as Nazi medical experiments, certificates granting privileges after vaccination were seen as the infamous selection procedure in Nazi death camps, and anti-vaxxers claimed they were as undesirable and persecuted as the Jews had been.

In Germany, where opposition to the vaccines is particularly strong, demonstrators wore a yellow star on their clothes with the word ‘unvaccinated’ replacing the word Jew and called Chancellor Merkel a Nazi.

The advent of the vaccines, coupled with Israel’s vast vaccination campaign, assisted by Israelis and Jews who hold prominent positions in the companies that produce these vaccines, including Tal Zaks, Chief Medical Officer at Moderna, and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, was used to reinforce these anti-Semitic accusations. Conspiracy theorists claimed that Israelis and Jews joined hands so that Israel would be the first to recover from the pandemic, while the rest of the world stands in line and begs the Jews for help.

The Report is based on thousands of testimonies from different places around the globe, received throughout 2020 from the international network established by the Kantor Center several years ago, which includes about 60 participants who regularly send in information about antisemitism worldwide.