The pandemic’s breeding of antisemitism and how it scarily mirrors historical tales of vulnerability, hysteria & scapegoating.
By: Georgia Gardner
It can be a comfortable reflex, when dealing with a complex problem, to find solace in scapegoating minority communities. During this time of political unrest, we’re seeing an unprecedented amount of hate affecting these already-vulnerable groups, evidenced in-part by the recent attention drawn to the Black Lives Matter movement, and the wave of anti-Asian racism that ensued globally following the spreading of Coronavirus in Wuhan, China. The charging of discrimination against all groups during this time cannot be ignored, as it reveals the incessant bias that continues to manifest when their spotlight dims and the cameras are off. In the past few months, I’ve borne witness to this scapegoating happening within my own circle, among the Jewish community, a group receiving a subsect of the hate that’s permeating right now.
It happened in the nineteenth century during the black plague that led to pogroms against the Jewish people. It happened in the twentieth century in Europe when Jewish People were blamed for Germany’s loss in World War I. It’s happening right now across the world, as extremist groups blame the global pandemic on Jewish people.
The demonization of Jewish people is far from a unique consequence of the political climate of 1940s Europe. It is instead, a trend where in which rhetoric continues to affect minority communities today more than ever. This trend is especially rampant during the current pandemic as hate groups, yet again, looking for somebody to point fingers at.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been studying these trends through my work with the progressive Jewish pro-peace organization JSpaceCanada. And as part of my internship, I joined a team of committee members of The Enhancing Social Justice Project, emboldened with the goal to reintroducing the realities of antisemitism as a critical component of teacher education curriculums.
This is not to downplay the growing modes of discrimination affecting minority communities during this time, such anti-Asian and anti-Black racism, anti-immigration rhetoric and Islamophobia. Rather, my take pays special focus to a subsection of the issue, as antisemitism is viewed by many as an issue of the past, a nonrelevant issue – despite its rampant escalation during COVID-19. To this day, Jewish people remain one of the targeted groups in Canada for hate-motivated crime, whilst accounting for less than one percent of the population.
Although this type of discrimination is nothing new historically, the culminating ramifications of COVID-19 have created a hostile social environment that stokes hate among far-right groups in ways that are unique to the 21st century. A foreign virus, the global economic downturn, rising unemployment, the leadership (or lack thereof) in the United States creates a perfect recipe for disaster – all impacting the world at the same time and having drastic social repercussions. Everybody is hostile, everybody is scared, nobody knows what the future holds – and all from the confinement of their homes.
As a direct result of this uncertainty, Jewish people are once again being targeted.
Blaming Jews for the Coronavirus began in the Middle East in March, and in true coronavirus fashion, quickly spread to Europe, and then made its way to North America. This antisemitism has manifested in several forms, from Turkish officials accusing Israel, arguing that the creation of the virus is a ploy to exert global Zionism and profit off of the vaccine – to white supremacists encouraging those infected to transmit the virus to Jewish people. This is far from the first time we’ve seen this kind of language.
To make things worse, hate groups have been harassing the Jewish people in both online and physical communities. Examples today include attacks and vandalism of synagogues and cemeteries, and ‘zoom bombing,’ where intruders reportedly interrupted online religious rituals with disturbing imagery.
My work led me to discover the true risk that these online circumstances put on students today, as it can sometimes be hard to discern fact from fiction in today’s world of, “fake news.” How do we know what we’re reading is true? How can we refrain from giving in to comforting, yet damaging answers, in today’s time of unrest?
It happened during the black plague of 1348-1665, that led to pogroms against the Jewish people, and it happened in the twentieth century in Europe when Jews were blamed for Germany’s loss in World War I.…and it’s happening right now across the world, as extremist groups blame the global pandemic on the Jewish people, who’s to say this COVID-19 fueled antisemitism is not the beginning of history repeating itself? Why haven’t we learned to see the warning signs and take action?
A viable solution can only be brought upon by uplifting minority voices and fostering systemic change. It’s not enough to just post a black box on Instagram. Donate to social justice organizations that promote long-lasting change like Black Lives Matter, Urban Alliance on Race Relations and the Unist’ot’en 2020 Legal Fund. Educate yourself on minority issues so that you can be an ally and be cognisant of the ongoing discrimination in Canada affecting all minority communities.
As you read this article, the last generation of the Holocaust survivors continue to fade, along with their stories and accounts of the tragedies that they endured. It is our responsibility as the next generation to dismantle misinformation, propel the stories of our ancestors and negate the denial of our ancestors’ stories so that they may never be forgotten.
In a world where there are no answers to a global pandemic, Jewish people, once again, are being blamed, alongside many other minority communities. We must speak up for these groups now because as our history has taught us if we do not speak, there may be no one left to do so.
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Lungen, Paul. “Jews Still Most Targeted Group for Hate-Motivated Crimes.” The Canadian Jewish News, 2 Mar. 2020, www.cjnews.com/news/canada/jews-still-most-targeted-group-for-hate-motivated-crimes.
Malley, et al. “How Hitler Used Jews’ Failed WWI-Era Idealism to Feed the World’s Worst Genocide.” The Times of Israel, 16 Jan. 2018, www.timesofisrael.com/how-hitler-used-jews-failed-wwi-era-idealism-to-feed-the-worlds-worst-genocide/.
Sommer, Allison Kaplan. “Israeli Holocaust Event in Germany ‘Zoom Bombed’ with Anti-Semitic Slurs.” Haaretz.com, Haaretz.com, 22 Apr. 2020, www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-israeli-holocaust-event-in-germany-zoom-bombed-with-anti-semitic-slurs-1.8786521.
Topor, Lev. “COVID-19: Blaming the Jews for the Plague, Again.” Fathom, fathomjournal.org/covid-19-blaming-the-jews-for-the-plague-again/.
Photographer Unknown. Photo Retrieved From: https://www.aviano.af.mil/Articles/Photos/igphoto/2000867360/