Aurel Braun, an anti-Semitism expert at the University of Toronto, said in an interview recently the global pandemic has worsened the age-old problem of Jew hatred by giving its adherents a new focus for their lies.
“COVID has certainly amplified the problem of anti-Semitism,” he said. “It has made matters worse because it has brought people together. You might think that the world would show unity for larger humanity, but that has not been the response. Across the spectrum, division has been amplified.”
His view is reinforced by an annual report on anti-Semitism from the Israeli ministry responsible for connecting with world Jewry. It warned that anti-Semitism is expected to rise sharply around the world as a result of COVID-related conspiracy theories against Jews and Israel.
The Diaspora Affairs document found an increase in American anti-Semitism it attributed to the coronavirus, political polarization, the spread of conspiracy theories and the racial justice protests, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“For thousands of years, the Jewish people were the scapegoat for the ills of the world, and unfortunately, anti-Semitism has not skipped over the current pandemic,” Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch said in a statement to the newspaper.
“If anti-Semitism is a global phenomenon, then the war against it must also be global,” she said, calling for a “determined and uncompromising struggle to defeat this plague.”
The Diaspora Affairs report was published ahead of the Jan. 27 observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The Times of Israel reported on Jan. 24 the ministry said the pandemic is being used by Iran, among others, to spread conspiracy theories that Jews caused the outbreak in order to profit financially from the ensuing chaos.
In another story, JTA reported on legislators in the United States criticizing Israel for not supplying Palestinians with the coronavirus vaccine. Israel has said it is not required to vaccinate West Bank Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority leadership has said it prefers to receive vaccines from other sources.
Braun said linking Jew-hatred to the global pandemic is really just putting a rancid old wine in a new bottle as the world’s oldest prejudice evolves.
“One would like to think that issues like anti-Semitism really wouldn’t have to be addressed today,” he told an event organized recently by the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation. “In fact, anti-Semitism has continued to evolve.”
In an interview, Braun said a troubling part of that evolution is the way anti-Semitism has taken root on university campuses under the guise of compassion for displaced Palestinians and opposition to Israeli “oppression” in occupied territories.
One disturbing example of that, he said, was a recent incident at a California college where a professor has come under fire for tweeting a drawing of the “Zionist brain” complete with lobes of world domination, obsession with money and Holocaust remembrance as a weapon against opponents.
“That is all very similar to the traditional anti-Semitic tropes about world domination and greed,” he said. “Sadly, it is not rare in the academic world.”
Aiding in the spread of anti-Semitic lies, he said, are people he describes as “Jews of convenience,” who try to separate their Jewishness from Zionism.
“The problem with these people is they have not been sufficiently rejected by the rest of the community,” Braun said. “They are entitled to their opinions, but not to say they speak for the rest of the community.
“They use words like Zionist, but they are really speaking about Jews,” he said. “They are really just part of an assault on the Jewish people.”
Another field where pro-Israel arguments need to be expanded is the debate over whether Jews are indigenous to the Middle East.
If Israel is seen as the national rebirth of the Jewish people, then Jews are indigenous to that region and efforts such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement can only be seen as anti-Semitic, he argued.
All of that, he said, shows that efforts to combat anti-Semitism can never end.
“Anti-Semitism is a virus that can lie dormant for years,” he said. “We must not ignore this virus. We need to be organized against it, we need a sustained commitment to action.”