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EU finds antisemitism increased during pandemic, urges better data collection

Report says COVID revived old libels, created new myths blaming the virus on Jews; authors decry underreporting, say European states must do better

A man holds a placard during a protest organized by Jewish associations, who say justice has not been done for the killing of French Jewish woman Sarah Halimi, at Trocadero Plaza near Eiffel Tower in Paris, April 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
A man holds a placard during a protest organized by Jewish associations, who say justice has not been done for the killing of French Jewish woman Sarah Halimi, at Trocadero Plaza near Eiffel Tower in Paris, April 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

VIENNA, Austria — Antisemitism has grown during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly online, a new EU report said on Tuesday, but gaps in data make it difficult to measure how bad the problem really is.

As well as old lies being revived, “new antisemitic myths and conspiracy theories that blame Jews for the pandemic have come to the fore,” said the report.

“Antisemitism, especially online, grew during the pandemic,” said the report, by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

At the same time, the agency’s own research showed that antisemitic acts were consistently underreported. The lack of data on the issue made it harder to tackle the problem, said the report.

The report based its findings on a review of official data compiled by EU member states, and what it called unofficial data collected by civil society organizations.

There was no official data available from two member states, Hungary and Portugal.

Rights groups in Germany noted the link between the surge in antisemitism and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the first months of the pandemic, the Department for Research and Information on Antisemitism Berlin (RIAS), said 44 percent of the incidents it had recorded were linked to the coronavirus.

An anti-Semitic cartoon published on Telegram on March 15, 2020, likening Jews to the coronavirus using the image of the Trojan horse. (Diaspora Affairs Ministry monitoring team via ADL/courtesy)

A federation of Jewish communities in the Czech Republic recorded 874 incidents in 2020, up from 694 the previous year.

Almost all of them were published in the media or online and many concerned antisemitic conspiracy theories specifically related to the pandemic, said the report.

“Antisemitism is a serious problem,” FRA director Michael O’Flaherty said in a statement introducing the report. “But without the data, we do not know how serious it is.”

EU countries need to encourage reporting of such incidents and improve the recording and collection of the data, he added.

“With that, we will be better able to tackle hatred and prejudice against Jews.”

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