Coronavirus and the plague of antisemitism

8 Apr 2020 by CST

Today CST has published a Research Briefing, called Coronavirus and the Plague of Antisemitism, about antisemitic reactions to COVID-19. As soon as the global reach of this pandemic became clear, CST knew that antisemitism wouldn’t be far behind, and antisemites, conspiracy theorists and extremists of different hues have all added their antisemitic poison to this crisis. You can read the full briefing here

CST has been collecting antisemitic posts, comments and memes relating to coronavirus for the past few weeks and has identified five different anti-Jewish narratives regarding COVID-19. Here they are: 

1. The Virus is Fake – it’s a Jewish conspiracy: Whether it’s a terrorist attack, an economic crash or a global pandemic, the kneejerk response of conspiracy theorists is to assume the ‘official’ story is untrue. This pandemic is no different, with many alleging a fake Jewish conspiracy.  

2. The Virus is Real – but it’s still a Jewish conspiracy:  An alternative angle for conspiracy theorists is to accept that COVID-19 really exists but assume that it has been deliberately created and spread for malevolent purposes.   

There are several variations on this theme: including that there is a “Zionist agenda” to depopulate the world by killing huge numbers of people or that the coronavirus is part of a plot involving some combination of the United States, Israel and China.  

3. Jews are the primary spreaders of the virus: Genuine media stories about the impact of COVID-19 on Jewish communities have encouraged antisemites to assume that Jews are the primary spreaders of the virus. Having initially nicknamed coronavirus the Wu Flu (referring to Wuhan as the geographical origin of the virus), some of these online haters have now dubbed it the Jew Flu. 

4. Celebrating Jewish deaths: Amongst hardcore antisemites and extreme right wing circles, news that Jewish people are dying from COVID-19 in disproportionately high numbers has brought sickening celebration. 

5. Let’s spread it to the Jews: The final step is to try to use coronavirus to kill Jews. This is the logical conclusion of this pattern of hate and they have even given it a sick new name – the Holocough 

The association of Jews with disease and infection is not original. It draws on a long history and deep-rooted antisemitic tropes that go back as far as the 1340s, when Jews were blamed for spreading the Black Death throughout Europe. In many places, Jews were accused of for causing the plague by allegedly poisoning wells, and they were tortured, put on trial, executed and expelled. Thousands of Jews were murdered for this non-existent crime and hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed. 

These libels would later influence Nazi propaganda. Indeed, Adolf Hitler compared Jews to a “harmful bacillus” in Mein Kampf and spoke of a “Jewish virus” that threatened Germany; Nazi propaganda regularly compared Jews to fleas, rats, lice and other disease-bearing creatures, such as in the infamous Nazi propoganda film; Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew). 

These antisemitic tropes are now being remodelled and repurposed for a modern-day audience, with many of the same themes and ideas applied to the current coronavirus pandemic. 

It’s tempting to dismiss extremist linkage of #coronavirus with Jews as something so ridiculous and irrelevant. In fact the opposite is the case: CST found many of these posts and memes in the same online spaces where extremists celebrate and encourage terrorist murderers. As with so many other antisemitic charges, such as Jews as child-killers, or Zionists controlling America, the charges are ridiculous: but they carry deadly consequences, just as they have always done. 

You can read CST’s full Research Briefing on Coronavirus and the Plague of Antisemitism here


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Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth