May 16, 2021


A new and unique wave of anti-Semitism has been aroused by the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, according to data collected by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University and just issued in a special report. The new wave of antisemitism includes a range of libels that have one thing in common – that the Jews, the Zionists and/or the State of Israel are “to blame for the pandemic and/or stand to gain from it.”

The anti-Semitism generated by the coronavirus is intensive and fierce, and has continued unremittingly for several months. When there is s a high level of anxiety and fear in many populations, it seems that hate for the Jews and Israel erupts.

Coronavirus-related anti-Semitism is manifested throughout Europe, in North and South America and in the Muslim world. This new type of antisemitism, which partly reiterates classic antisemitic themes, includes conspiracy theories alongside medieval blood libels, now renewed in a 21st century format. An Oxford University study revealed that 19.1% of the British public believe that the Jews caused the pandemic

According to the Kantor Center report, coronavirus-related anti-Semitism is propagated mostly by right-wing extremists and ultra-conservative Christians and Islamists through their own media in various languages. The phenomenon is reported by many central media channels – the social media, television, radio and the printed press.

Islamists describe Israel as the COVID-1948 virus – after the year in which the Jewish state was established, declaring that this is the “most dangerous virus of all.”

Activists in movements for delegitimizing Israel use the same argument. In addition, they accuse Israel of using the coronavirus as ammunition against the Palestinians. 

The report is based on hundreds of accounts from different places around the world received since March and an international network of colleagues living in 35 countries who identify and classify acts of antisemitism that are added the material to The Moshe Kantor Database on Antisemitism. The network was established by the Tel Aviv University over 30 years ago and today numbers about 60 participants. 

The database is an up-to-date collection of materials and resources on trends and events related to contemporary antisemitism, which includes English summaries based on source materials in all languages and formats including texts, visuals and audiovisuals. The collection of COVID-19 antisemitic material was coordinated in Venezuela by Sammy Eppel.

Tel Aviv University Prof. Emeritus of Modern Jewish History Dina Porat, who heads the Kantor Center, commented: “These common motifs perpetuate anti-Semitic accusations from previous generations and other global catastrophes, once again presenting the well-known image of the Jew. However, the anti-Semitism generated by the coronavirus is fiercer and more intensive, has continued unremittingly for several months and reflects a high level of anxiety and fear in many populations.”

She added: “This having been said, the situation should be seen in its overall context — in which others are also blamed for spreading the virus: first of all, the Chinese, 5G antennas and the authorities who allegedly are not doing enough to stop the epidemic. Countries close down their borders; every foreigner is a suspect; and no new immigrants are allowed.” 

Coronavirus-related anti-Semitism is manifested in many parts of the world, according to the report. A significant portion comes from the US and from Middle Eastern countries such as Iran and Turkey as well as the Palestinian Authority, but also from Europe and South America. 

While in the US, accusations come mainly from white supremacists and ultraconservative Christians who point the finger at Jews in general and ultra-Orthodox (haredi) Jews in particular, accusers in the Middle East mostly blame Israel, Zionism and the Mossad (Israel’s national intelligence agency) for “creating and spreading the virus and intending to make a vast fortune from medications and the vaccine they are already developing.”

In the Western world, the main elements promoting anti-Semitic discourse are civil society groups with various ideologies, while in the Middle East, some of this discourse is put forth by the regimes themselves.

Dr. Giovanni Quer, an Italian researcher at the Kantor center, added: “Universal disasters have been attributed to the Jews and Israel before, giving rise to anti-Semitic discourse such as conspiracy theories blaming Israel for 9/11 or false reports accusing Israeli soldiers of harvesting organs from the bodies of dead Palestinians. The current wave of antisemitism is unprecedented, however, because, spreading very swiftly through the social media, it focused at first on the COVID-19 crisis and then quickly moved on because of social and political changes,” he said.

 “Just a few days passed between the coronavirus crisis and the racism-related social crisis in the US, but anti-Semitic discourse remained just as fierce, with its proponents simply adapting their antisemitic narratives to the changing social contexts.” Even though the anti-Semitic materials come from a range of different directions and entities, they contain many common themes: Classic anti-Semitism such as the return to the libel of well poisoning from the time of the Black Plague during the Middle Ages.

One example is this French caricature of the former health minister (a Jewish woman) pouring poison into a well, while smiling.

Anti-Semitism toward ultra-Orthodox Jews, mainly in the US, are seen as spreaders of the virus because they supposedly disregard the rules and view themselves, as always, as” living outside the law that binds everyone else; and when ultimately Jews are infected with the virus – it’s because they rejected the teachings of Jesus and crucified him.”

A modern-day version of the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion – that the Jews always seek to rule the world, and this time they will do so by “spreading a virus that undermines economies and societies, and preparing a vaccine and a drug that will be sold worldwide at an enormous profit.”

Claims propagated in Iran and Turkey assert that the Zionists, together with the US, are the source of the pandemic and will gain from it when thousands of Muslims die in the Middle East, particularly in Iran.

Israel and the Israel Defense Forces are constantly accused of spreading the virus by force among Palestinians, especially inmates in Israeli prisons. This claim, however, completely ignores the facts: So far only one person has died of coronavirus in the Palestinian Authority and Gaza. The accusation is especially rife in networks that regularly promote the vilification of Israel.

Distorting terminology associated with the Holocaust is also common. Restrictions enforced as part of anti-pandemic policies are compared to policies of the Nazi regime. Lockdown is likened to the ghettos and release from it to the German slogan Arbeit Macht Frei (work liberates) that appeared at the entrance to Auschwitz; the word “unvaccinated” replaces “Jew” on the yellow star worn by demonstrators protesting against vaccination policies, suggesting that those who have not been vaccinated are like Jews persecuted in Nazi Germany and that those who disagree with vaccination opponents see them as disease spreaders – like the Jews. This phenomenon became so widespread that in Munich it is now forbidden to wear the yellow star in demonstrations.

The term “Holocough” – combining Holocaust with cough, is widespread in the social media, especially among neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Some arguments claim that coughing is a “means employed by Jews to harm the white race.” 

In addition, sceptics argue that there actually is no epidemic, and that current events are all part of a “Jewish-Zionist plot” to take over the world. Direct calls are propagated to attack Jews by spreading the virus among them (for instance the rhymes “If you have the bug, give a hug” and “Spread the flu to every Jew”). This trend reached a peak in a sign raised in a demonstration in the US: “Synagogues are closed – the gas chambers are open.” 

Since the tragic and shocking killing of Afro-American George Floyd by a white policeman in Minneapolis, a new stage has emerged where some anti-Israel activists inject anti-Semitic themes into valid civil rights protests.  They claimt that the slave traders who brought Africans to America were Jews; police forces in the US are brutal and racist because they are trained by the Israel Police; and that African- Americans and Palestinians share the same cruel fate.