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Anti-Semitism in the 2020 Pandemic: Less Violence, More Desecration, Intense Online Jew Hatred

Anti-Semitism in the 2020 Pandemic: Less Violence, More Desecration, Intense Online Jew Hatred

Photo Credit: Kantor Center

A cartoon depicting the gate of Auschwitz with the slogan ‘Vaccination liberates’ replacing ‘Work liberates,’ with portraits of Bill Gate and Xi Jinping in the background.

In 2020, the total worldwide number of violent anti-Semitic events decreased from 456 (2019) to 371 (2020). At the same time, a 20% increase was observed in desecration of synagogues, graveyards, and Holocaust memorials (which were closed or unguarded due to the lockdown and therefore easy prey for anti-Semitic vandalism). In addition, new phenomena developed on the internet, such as zoom bombing and the darknet, which are difficult to quantify.

On Wednesday, the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Humanities in cooperation with the European Jewish Congress publishes the Anti-Semitism Report for 2020 – the year of COVID-19 – indicating contradictory trends: On the one hand, a decrease was seen in physical violence due to the lockdowns, which reduced encounters between Jews and violent anti-Semites; On the other, accusations against the Jews (allegedly responsible for the global disaster), were manifested in a rise in blatant anti-Semitic expressions on the internet in general and social networks specifically. 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 anti-Semitism worldwide.


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Prof. Dina Porat, Research Leader (Head of the Kantor Center): “The coronavirus 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. Blaming the Jews and Israelis for developing and spreading the coronavirus (or ‘Judeovirus’), was the main motif in this year’s anti-Semitic manifestations. This notion is rooted in deep fear of the Jew/Israeli as a spreader of disease in both the past and present.”

Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress: “In a year of physical restrictions, it is obvious that physical attacks should decrease. However, with the increase of anti-Semitism online, the next wave of attacks against Jews and Jewish targets could be only around the corner. During times of social crises, Jews are always scapegoated and targeted and we have seen this throughout the Covid cycle. Jews have been blamed for the virus and the cure, and the restrictions and vaccines have been inappropriately compared with the Holocaust, which minimizes and diminishes the murder of Six-Million Jews. We hope that what we are witnessing is not the calm before the ‘perfect storm’ of Jew-hatred in the years ahead.”

Blaming the Jews and Israelis for developing and spreading the coronavirus (or ‘Judeovirus’) 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: they 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. We 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 accusers like Iran, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority, and especially Iran, that invested efforts in disseminating the accusation. It also spread to populations with no well-defined political or ideological identities.

Figures and trends: As noted above, lockdowns in the various countries reduced encounters between Jews and their ill-wishers, and consequently the number of violent events declined in 2020 from 456 to 371 – a number that was typical of 2016-18. No one was murdered this year for being Jewish (even though physical attacks could have led to the loss of life), 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, simply because people mostly 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 it was before, and in some cases even increased (see table). The number of desecrations of graveyards, Holocaust memorials, and other Jewish monuments rose from 77 (2019) to 96 (2020) incidents worldwide, because these sites are open and unprotected. The number of vandalized synagogues also increased from 53 (2019) to 63 (2020), since being closed, they became easy prey.

In the US a gradual rise in violent incidents has been observed for several years, reaching 119 this year (compared to 99 in 2017 for example), 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 violent incidents. In both countries, vandalism accounted for most of the incidents.

A significant decline was noted in Australia, the UK, and especially 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 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, except for Ukraine, less than 10 incidents (per country) were reported in 2020.

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

Zoom bombing: When zoom became a major means of communication, a phenomenon called zoom-bombing emerged – breaking into zoom conferences of synagogues, Jewish community centers, and Jewish students, disrupting the meetings and using the platform to display swastikas, anti-Semitic presentations or speeches, etc. In the US alone 200 cases of zoom bombing were registered.

Development of the darknet: Extremist groups, especially from the far-right, like white supremacists and neo-Nazis, left the open social networks and descended into the darknet, which grew significantly over the past year – where they can be free of any supervision or restrictions. Here, undisturbed, they run their own websites, that are very hard to monitor. In other words, while the number of anti-Semitic manifestations in the open networks declined, activities on the darknet intensified.

Vaccine opponents and the Holocaust, in Israel and abroad: Vaccine opponents equated the restrictions and lockdowns for containing 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 medical experiments; certificates granting privileges after vaccination were seen as the infamous ‘selection’ procedure in Nazi death camps; anti-vaxxers felt that they were as undesirable and persecuted as the Jews had been; the epitaph on the gate to Auschwitz served as a source for the new slogan ‘Vaccination liberates’; and so on.

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, like Tal Zaks, Chief Medical Officer at Moderna, and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, reinforced the accusations: Israelis and Jews join hands so that Israel may be first to recover from the pandemic, while the rest of the world stands in line and begs the Jews for help.

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Anti-Semitism in the 2020 Pandemic: Less Violence, More Desecration, Intense Online Jew Hatred

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