A portrait of viral antisemitism

Right from Wrong: Though COVID-19 may be novel, there is nothing new about blaming the People of the Book for the world’s ills.

1944 EDITORIAL CARTOON by Eric Godal reflects that numerous attacks in New York City were antisemitic in nature. (photo credit: Courtesy)
1944 EDITORIAL CARTOON by Eric Godal reflects that numerous attacks in New York City were antisemitic in nature.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Nothing serves as a better Petri dish for the incubation of antisemitism than a global health crisis that causes economies to crash. It is no wonder, then, that the coronavirus pandemic has been an inspiration to Jew-haters and Israel-bashers of all strains.
Though COVID-19 may be novel, there is nothing new about blaming the People of the Book for the world’s ills. On the contrary, the phenomenon is as old and entrenched as the common cold.
But while quarantines were being imposed to “flatten the curve,” they simultaneously sparked an outbreak of antisemitic conspiracy theories about the ostensibly Jewish origin and spread of the infectious disease. Lockdowns also led to a burst of creative energy on the part of holed-up cartoonists whose work would have made the Third Reich proud.
Unlike the Nazi propaganda machine, however, today’s caricaturists have the weapon of social media at their disposal – one that has proven immune to vows by Facebook and Twitter to confront with “community standards” algorithms.
Yes, curbing anti-Jewish expression on the Internet by suspending individual posts is about as realistic a proposition as curing corona by donning a surgical mask – especially with the massive amount of web traffic that home isolation has wrought.
The Palestinian Authority couldn’t be more pleased with its official and amateur graphic designers for doing their civic duty: employing the visual arts to incite their peers to murder Israelis. To maximize their success in the endeavor, which is encouraged and rewarded by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, they demonize Jews through their drawings.
Depicting Jews and Israelis as evil has been a constant feature of the PA-controlled press. The onset of the coronavirus crisis merely gave it a different twist.
Imagine the joy of being able to add a microbe with crown-like protein spikes to a tired repertoire of hooked noses and bloody matzah. Picture the delight on the faces of animators and meme-makers presented with a new gimmick.
Take the latest hashtag campaign, for instance, called #COVID-48. How clever of the Palestinians to replace the year that the virus first appeared – 2019 – with that of the establishment of the Jewish state. You know, the thriving democracy that they wish to eradicate, despite protestations that their only aspiration is to achieve independent statehood along the 1967 borders.
ONE ELEMENT of this Twitter campaign is a series of cartoons portraying Israel as either the cause of the disease or the embodiment of it.
Naturally, Prime Minister Benjamin plays a prominent role, appearing in one cartoon as a fat green blob of corona pushing its way through a Star of David. Another sketch is of a Palestinian forearm being injected with a syringe of COVID-48.
The Israeli military, too, features prominently in these colorful masterpieces, one of which shows an IDF soldier coughing on and spewing a cloud of respiratory droplets at defiant Palestinian prisoners with their fists raised in the air. 
Then there’s a cartoon of money-grubbing Diaspora Jews exploiting the crisis out of greed, while a clueless Uncle Sam looks helplessly at China. 
To be fair, the Palestinians are by no means alone in this activity. Antisemites in the US and Europe, as well, have been busy at easels and on iPads producing material worthy of Der Stürmer. Jew-haters with time on their hands – fearing infection and financial ruin – are bound to target their favorite culprit, after all.
This goes for antisemites of all stripes, whether neo-Nazis, radical Islamists or far-left activists pretending that their only problem with Israel is its government’s policies in relation to the Palestinians. Nor do any of the above need a plague to evoke their irrational loathing.
Indeed, a sharp rise in what the late scholar Robert Wistrich called a “lethal obsession” was apparent well before the coronavirus crisis became an excuse.
According to the Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide for 2019, released in April by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, “The return of traditional, classic antisemitic stereotypes [and] intensification of anti-Israeli and Islamist antisemitism have contributed to the growing role of the antisemitic discourse that moved from the fringes of society into the mainstream.”
Citing a study conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the report revealed that “41% of Jews aged 16-34 have considered emigrating from Europe... over the last five years [due to] antisemitism... and perceptions regarding governments’ responses [to it], which are overwhelmingly considered inadequate.”
The report also notes the emergence in the US of “increased violent antisemitic manifestations, with shooting sprees and numerous casualties, inspired mainly by right-wing ideologies, as well as by certain groups within the Black Hebrew Israelites and the Nation of Islam. Perpetrators of major antisemitic violent attacks in 2019 were active in disseminating antisemitic propaganda online, through international networks of likeminded activists.
ANTI-ZIONISM EXPRESSED in antisemitic terms was rampant among left-wing activists as well, especially in reaction to warm Israeli-American administration relations, depicted as Israeli-Jewish deliberate attempts to dominate and manipulate American policies and leaders.”
Talk about a sickness-inducing pandemic. Literally.
If history has taught us anything, it is that antisemitism is not simply a mild psychiatric disorder – since Jews are a tiny minority in every country in the world other than Israel, which itself is minuscule in relative terms; it is, rather, a symptom of Stage Four societal cancer. No amount of alcogel can sanitize that dirty little secret.
Which brings us back to the other plague – the one that has most of humanity living in limbo, keeping what is deemed a safe, six-foot distance from strangers, friends and family alike. Oh, and scrubbing our hands like Lady Macbeth, while draped in accessories befitting a brain surgeon.
Whether panic over the coronavirus was or still is warranted remains to be seen. This is something that will not be determined fully until the wave has blown over and/or a vaccine is available. It is difficult, if not impossible, to analyze the data properly in the midst of the commotion.
The same cannot be said about antisemitism. No, hatred of Jews and Israel has a proven record of death and destruction on a mass scale. All additional statistics on that score are the fault of new perpetrators and the passive response to them on the part of the willfully ignorant, apathetic or criminally negligent ostriches among us.
It is hard to fathom how Hitlerian rhetoric and Holocaust imagery elicit less of a reaction than a virus that appears to be running its course.
A common mantra these days is that “We’re all in this together.” Well, if enabling antisemites to disperse their poison beyond borders forbidden to travelers with the sniffles constitutes solidarity, the world really is in the throes of a fatal illness. And that’s not a cartoon characterization of the situation.
Nor is the fact that Jewish scientists in Israel and abroad are working tirelessly around the clock to come up with an antidote to the coronavirus. The rest of us would do well, in the meantime, to focus on finding a remedy for a far greater killer – one that mutates and metastasizes exponentially with each passing minute.