WASHINGTON — The coronavirus pandemic has upended the world. China instituted a lockdown on tens of millions of its people. Israel set drastic restrictions on workplaces and public gatherings. And the United States on Friday declared a national emergency, all in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel virus.
As the infectious disease — with no vaccine or specific cure — has spread across the globe, a new conspiracy theory has been brewing on the fringes of society: The Jews are behind it.
According to Alex Friedfeld, a researcher with the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center on Extremism, extremists began promulgating the notion in January that the coronavirus was created by a cabal of Jews, around the time the virus was first being detected.
“The most popular conspiracy theory is that Jews are using this virus as a means for profit,” Friedfeld told The Times of Israel. “They are saying Jews manufactured it and are going to take advantage of the markets collapse through insider trading.”
Such ideas have been percolating not only on extremist platforms like Telegram and Gab, he said, but through posts on mainstream platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, where memes and statements have been posted regularly.
“What’s interesting to me was I started to see these same conspiracy theories — and anti-Semitic ones in particular — pop-up on social media,” he said.
In some cases, these theories have also appeared on state-sponsored television networks, like in Turkey.
One guest on Turkish television said “Jews, Zionists have organized and engineered the novel coronavirus as a biological weapon just like bird flu” to “design the world, seize countries and neuter the world’s population.”
Beyond spreading the falsity that coronavirus is a Jewish invention (some have referred to it as a bio-weapon), some white nationalists have also celebrated the disease outbreak as an opportunity for their cause.
“They are saying it could destroy society completely and, on the ashes of it, they could build their white ethno-state, which is what they want,” said Friedfeld. “This is maybe the virus that will break society, and they hope they will have a chance to build upon the remains.”
Another idea being spread is that the coronavirus is a conspiracy between Jews and Zionists and the so-called Deep State to take down US President Donald Trump.
“It’s a lot of these plays off of old tropes and stereotypes that are being repacked and deployed again just with this new storyline,” Friedfeld said.
The ADL researcher said anti-Semites have cited the Jewish Brazilian official who tested positive for Covid-19 and met with the American leader when Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro visited Mar a Lago earlier this month.
This is not the first time that Jews have been scapegoated for a global pandemic. Most notoriously, Jews were blamed for the Black Plague, leading to scores of persecutions and massacres of Jewish communities from 1348 to 1351.
Friedfeld said the conspiracy theories are not comprehensively formulated.
Asked how those propagating them explain the means by which the Jews have supposedly spread and transmitted the coronavirus, Friedfeld said that they simply haven’t. “I don’t think people think it through that far,” he said.
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