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Coronavirus crisis fueling anti-Semitism around world, foreign minister charges

Israel Katz says Jewish communities already hurt directly by pandemic are under threat of rising Jew-hatred as well, adds Israel should help them

Foreign Minister Israel Katz attends a Likud party rally, ahead of the Israeli general elections, in the northern town of Safed, February 24, 2020. (David Cohen/FLASH90)
Foreign Minister Israel Katz attends a Likud party rally, ahead of the Israeli general elections, in the northern town of Safed, February 24, 2020. (David Cohen/FLASH90)

Anti-Semitism around the world is being fueled by the coronavirus crisis, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Monday, calling on the government to aid Jewish communities in the Diaspora being ravaged by the pandemic.

The comments came a week after Israeli researchers and Jewish groups reported that anti-Semitic incidents were on the rise amid world instability, including among people who blame the COVID-19 pandemic on a Jewish conspiracy.

“Anti-Semitism, which was already on the rise before the crisis, has gotten another boost [from the coronavirus]. And it is threatening Jewish communities that are being shaken by the virus’s blows, both medically and economically,” Katz said at a memorial ceremony for diplomats and foreign service officers killed in the line of duty, ahead of Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and terror victims which begins Monday night.

“We can’t allow this phenomenon to become legitimized by repetition. We need to join hands with Diaspora Jewish communities, along with various Jewish organizations, to uproot this scourge wherever it shows its head,” he said.

“The decisive and eternal answer to anti-Semitism has been the State of Israel, and it will stay that way,” he said.

A photo tweeted by a city councilman in the Hague that references the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust, to protest an application for monitoring coronavirus carriers. (Arnoud van Doorn/Twitter via JTA)

Last week, Tel Aviv University researchers said the outbreak had sparked a rise in anti-Semitic expression blaming Jews for the spread of the disease and the economic recession it has caused.

The findings, which came in an annual report on anti-Semitism, showed an 18 percent spike in attacks against Jews last year. The report warned that the pandemic has threatened to amp up incitement even more.

Although they did not include 2020 statistics, the researchers said the hatred has come from sources as varied as right-wing European politicians, ultra-conservative American pastors, anti-Zionist intellectuals and Iranian state authorities.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant rise in accusations that Jews, as individuals and as a collective, are behind the spread of the virus or are directly profiting from it,” said Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, an umbrella group representing Jewish communities across the continent. “The language and imagery used clearly identifies a revival of the medieval ‘blood libels’ when Jews were accused of spreading disease, poisoning wells or controlling economies.”

Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry releases its report every year on the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was marked on Tuesday last week.

Moshe Kantor, president of the World Holocaust Forum Foundation, delivers a speech during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

The researchers said the hateful response to the novel coronavirus was the continuation of an ancient form of anti-Semitism that involves blaming Jews when “things go wrong.”

They recorded expressions such as pinning the source of the virus on Jews rejecting Christ and accusing Jews of perpetrating the virus’s spread in order to profit from vaccines they would ultimately create to combat it. The FBI also warned against calls coming from US neo-Nazis and white supremacists to spread contagion among Jews.

Kantor warned that the virus had the potential to spark populist extremism, similar to what erupted after the Great Depression and contributed to the rise of Nazism.

The dire statements come on the heels of another difficult year for Jews, capped by the October shooting attack on Yom Kippur against a synagogue in the German city of Halle. Germany averaged five anti-Semitic incidents a day in 2019. Overall, at least 169 Jews were physically attacked in the world in 2019, some close to or even in their homes.

A person with a flag of Israel hugs another person in front of a synagogue in Halle, Germany, October 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

A recent survey, led by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, found that four out of 10 European Jews under the age of 60 have considered emigrating because of the rise in anti-Semitism. It doesn’t say where they want to emigrate. Also, the survey said eight out of 10 feel anti-Semitism is a problem in their countries.

Several governments have taken additional measures to protect Jews, with more than 20 countries adopting the working definition of anti-Semitism as outlined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. A Code of Conduct against illegal hate speech on the web was also signed in 2019 with internet platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube vowing to scan material identified as such and remove it within 24 hours.

In January, Israel hosted dozens of world leaders for the largest-ever gathering focused on combating anti-Semitism.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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