The Black Death in the 14th century set a dangerous precedent of blaming Jews for pandemics. Thousands of Jews were murdered and entire communities wiped out on the premise that fewer Jews seemed to be dying from the disease.
Ironically, precisley the opposite claim, that the Orthodox Jews are not adhering to social distancing guidelines and are suffering more, is fueling anti-Jewish sentiment during the current pandemic. A recent report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) noted a connection between the raging pandemic and a surge in antisemitic, xenophobic, and hateful messages and conspiracy theories online. The ADL noted that an old trope was retrofitted to the coronavirus with social media spreading conspiracy theories that despite suffering to an equal degree, Jews and/or Israel manufactured or spread the coronavirus to advance their global control. Most of these theories assigned a monetary motive.
Others claimed the virus was divine retribution brought on by the Jews. Pastor Rick Wiles, founder of TruNews, claimed that Judaism was a “false religion” that brought on divine ire for rejecting Jesus.
Of course, white nationalists could not be left out of the rush to condemn Jews. The white supremacy website Daily Stormer wrote on 26 March 2020, “Coronavirus is now a hoax that is officially on par with the Holocaust and global warming.”
Still others, including left-wing anti-Israel Jewish groups, blamed Israel for weaponizing the virus against the Palestinians despite Israel sending tons of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in both Judea and Samaria, and Gaza.
Muslims around the world have also taken up the banner, blaming Jews for the pandemic. One popular imam in Yemen and another in the Caribbean both gave sermons claiming the jews orchestrated the coronavirus in order to shut down Islam’s holiest site in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Al Masdar, an Algerian news website recently published a report titled ‘A Zionist organisation is behind the coronavirus and the Zionist entity (Israel) claims to have found the vaccine.’ In Iran, Professor Ali Karami from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-run Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences appeared on Iranian television and described COVID-19 as a ‘biological ethnic weapon,’ created by the ‘Americans and Zionist regime’ to target Iranian DNA. It was this Zionist plot, Professor Karami suggested, that explained the high mortality rate in Iran. When it was pointed out that Italy had also suffered a high death rate the Professor replied, ‘the genetics of the Italian people are very similar to the Iranian people.’ Yeniden Refah, a small Islamist party in Turkey said: “Though we do not have certain evidence, this virus serves Zionism’s goals of decreasing the number of people and preventing it from increasing, and important research expresses this. Zionism is a five-thousand-year-old bacteria that has caused the suffering of people.”
Also ironically, included in the anti-Jewish claims are claims that religious Christians are equally to blame for spreading the virus by continuing to worship in church. This generalized anti-religious sentiment came to a head last week when New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio threatened to permanently shut down all places of worship, both Christian and Jewish.
“I want to say to all those who are preparing the potential of religious services this weekend — if you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services,” de Blasio said.
“The NYPD, Fire Department, Buildings Department, and everyone has been instructed that if they see worship services going on, they will go to the officials of that congregation, they’ll inform them they need to stop the services and disperse,” de Blasio explained.
“If that does not happen, they will take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently,” de Blasio continued. “You’ve been warned, you need to stop services, help people practice their faith in different ways, but not in groups, not in gatherings that could endanger people.”
Though many civil liberties have been curtailed in these difficult times, Deblasio’s threat was, of course, an empty one, contravening the religious freedoms ensured in the constitution he was sworn to uphold. Even more egregious is the mayor singling out religious infractions while leaving open the subways, society’s petri dish for breeding epidemics.
Even worse was the decision to hold the annual Mardi Gras in New Orleans in late February. After the number of cases soared, Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana claimed he had not been warned that holding the bawdy fest would lead to the spread of the disease.
‘Rather than look back, I am focused on today and going forward,’ Edwards said to his critics at a recent press conference.
Some popular hotspots, like Miami and Fort Lauderdale, shut down but many college students ignored social distancing in order to party during spring break. 44 students from Austin, Texas tested positive after partying in Cabos San Lucas, Mexico. Student Travel Services told Business Insider , that only 20% of customers canceled their traveling plans after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic and the US government requested avoiding social gatherings of over 10 people.
The anti-religion message was emphasized and politicized in a New York Times editorial written by Katherine Stewart. Originally appearing under the headline, The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals’, the title was later changed to “The Religious Right’s Hostility to Science Is Crippling Our Coronavirus Response.” It carried the subhead “Trump’s response to the pandemic has been haunted by the science denialism of his ultraconservative religious allies.” In the op-ed, Stewart, a self-defined Jewish atheist, equates religious people as science deniers. In her article, Stewart criticizes the religious for putting more faith in faith than in medical science and public health measures. Thi included sharp criticism of continued public worship.
Criticism like that voiced by Stewart has value. Some religious people are ignoring social distancing. But at least as many non-religious people are as well. Targeting one group for criticism while ignoring identical actions by others is the very definition of prejudice. And in this case, this prejudice serves a practical purpose. Stewart’s article was politically motivated and in a disturbing phenomenon that is plaguing American politics, rather than target specific policies or politicians, or even a party, Stewart targets an entire segment of the population. In the manner of Hillary Clinton referring to much of Middle America as “deplorables”, Stewart rejects a large segment of the population based on the actions of a few outliers.
And make no mistake: the pandemic is being weaponized for political gain. Priorities USA Action, the Democratic Party’s largest super PAC which is largely supported by billionaire Geore Soros, is planning to spend $150 million before the Democratic National Convention to target Trump online and on television. The campaign has already begun and much of the advertising focuses on President Trump’s response to the coronavirus.
There are many lessons to be learned in these difficult times. Social distancing has been proven to be effective against the spread of the pandemic. The virus does not differentiate between the religious and non and neither should criticism and enforcement.
Another lesson that must not be lost in these difficult times is that there really were culprits that helped the pandemic to spread, individuals as well as governments. Political correctness must not allow those culprits to escape just as political beliefs must not decide who gets punished. It is not racist to target the Chinese government or the Iranian. It is racist and prejudicial to target Jews and evangelicals while ignoring partying spring breakers.