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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Stop Spreading Lies About Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates

As Jews, we are compelled by our history and our faith not to spread conspiracy theories.

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Anyone scrolling through the various social media platforms over the past few months with any interest in COVID-19 or for discussions about the shelter-in-place restrictions, has seen them: numerous conspiracy theories about the purported evil of Dr. Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates.

The two most popular conspiracy theories allege they created or are somehow responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to profit from a virus vaccine, or as a means to implement a global surveillance system, or to help the Democrats win the 2020 election. We also regularly see claims that Fauci, who first was  appointed as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) by President Ronald Reagan, is a “tool of the Democrats” who wants to “torpedo the Trump economy.”

Bill Gates; Photo by Wikimedia Commons

According to these theories — which are based on outright lies and misleading half-truths — one of the most philanthropic people in history and the second richest person in the world (who has been the richest or second richest person in the world for decades and presently is worth over $100 billion and has given away around $30 billion over the years to charity, including to fight infectious diseases); along with a man who has devoted almost his entire life to public service and to fighting infectious diseases — have helped to create and spread a terrible disease that has so far killed more than 250,000 people in order to make more money or to help Democrats win the upcoming presidential election.

To support these theories, the internet is rife with claims to the effect that Americans have been “fed false information” and that an “oppressive leftist element [is] using this [COVID-19] crisis as a means to destroy this country [the United States].”

When asked for evidence to support these outrageous allegations, these conspiracy theory proponents invariably argue:

1] The [epidemiological] models were built upon “falsified, exaggerated data.” The models were not “based on science, they were based on politics.”

2] The shelter-in-place restrictions were issued by “power-hungry governors” and are not meant to save lives; they are meant to destroy the economy and consolidate power.

3] The mainstream media, working with Fauci, Gates and Democrats, have created widespread panic over a disease that is “nowhere near as deadly as the flu.”

4] “Dr. Fauci paid millions of dollars to the Wuhan Institute” (which they also allege created the COVID-19 virus using Fauci’s money).

5] Bill Gates donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the World Health Organization (WHO) and he urged the WHO to declare COVID-19 a pandemic.

Before we get to why no Jew should spread these conspiracy theories, it bears addressing how baseless they are.

The “models” — particularly if they are heeded — aren’t going to be accurate.

Epidemiologists have been creating models to try to predict the progression of infectious diseases for nearly 200 years. Responding to public concerns about these models dates back to at least the 1850s, when most people didn’t believe that microscopic germs could exist in seemingly clear water or pass unseen from one seemingly healthy person to another. Today, we see many people express outrage when these models are not like crystal balls. And some people, when the models are off, ascribe nefarious and evil motives behind the inaccuracy in the models.

The reality, however, is far from nefarious; the models, which most of the world’s top epidemiologists agreed on and published regarding the potential spread of COVID-19 in countries ranging from the United States, Germany, Israel, Britain and France, laid out a range of predictions. In the United Kingdom, those predictions ranged from tens of thousands to over 500,000 dead — which all depended on how people acted and reacted and on the level of social distancing they would adhere to. That variety of potential outcomes coming from one model may seem extreme to some. But that’s inherent to how they work, because pandemics caused by highly contagious viruses are especially sensitive to various inputs and timing, and because epidemics grow exponentially, particularly as time goes by, without dramatic mitigation efforts or vaccines in place to arrest the spread of the contagion.

A video monitor inside the Medical Health and Coordination Center at the California Department of Public Health shows the number of Coronavirus COVID-19 cases around the world on February 27, 2020 in Sacramento, California.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The reality is that if an epidemiological model is acted on, then it can and hopefully will look like it was wrong. Epidemiological models are not meant to be treated like prophecy. They are meant to lay out a range of possibilities — and those possibilities are also understood to be sensitive to our actions and the input of a lot of other factors. In the case of COVID-19, those other factors were and are numerous.

There was and still remains a great deal about this virus and how it behaves that we don’t know.

For example, COVID-19 is new virus. There was and still remains a great deal about this virus and how it behaves that we don’t know, including how humans react to it, whether it is mutating in various climates or over time, or even whether and to what extent the developments of antibodies due to exposure creates some immunity and/or for how long.

In addition, in the beginning, the data the scientific community were receiving from China was far from perfect and then, when scientists were looking at the data from Italy, they couldn’t tell how much of those dire circumstances were due to other factors, such as a cultural affinity for flouting the rules, the vast amount of intergenerational living and the relative health of their population (compared to, say, Taiwan or South Korea).

All of these uncertainties, variables and additional factors when dealing with a brand new disease and with epidemiological models being created in response to a crisis, are invariably going to lead to a variety of options as well as plain and simple inaccuracies, because as new information became available, including about how well people actually are engaging in the highly relevant factor of social distancing, the models received new inputs and needed to be adjusted.

There is nothing nefarious or conspiratorial about this. And no credible evidence that anything was built on “falsified, exaggerated data” that was “purely political.”

Shelter-in-place restrictions weren’t issued to destroy the economy or to sabotage President Donald Trump.

When people allege that the concern over COVID-19 was exaggerated in order to shut down the economy because of a desire to destroy Trump’s reelection campaign (or something to that effect), it bears reminding them that in countries such as Israel, the United States, the U.K., Norway, Finland and Australia (many of which are governed by conservative, free-market leaders), the top infectious disease specialists all came to the same conclusions about the dangers posed by the coronavirus, and their respective leaders all reached roughly the same conclusions about the best way to arrest the spread of the disease, and to try and save as many lives possible.

To believe that all these people were part of some conspiracy so that an “oppressive leftist element” can “use this crisis as a means to destroy” the U.S. or as so many other people have sadly claimed, in order to sell vaccines, or to further some “globalist agenda” requires a suspension of all rational thinking.

To believe that all these people were part of some conspiracy so that an “oppressive leftist element” can “use this crisis as a means to destroy” the U.S. or as so many other people have sadly claimed, in order to sell vaccines, or to further some “globalist agenda” requires a suspension of all rational thinking.

The coronavirus is far more deadly than the flu.

A version of the claim that “the coronavirus is a disease that’s statistically nowhere near as deadly as the flu” can sadly be found throughout social media and in various attacks against Fauci and the shelter-in-place restrictions he (and almost every infectious disease specialist in the world) recommended. Despite its apparent popularity, it is absurd. These claims not only ignore the fact that the flu is materially less contagious and dangerous than COVID-19, we have a vaccine for the flu.

These claims not only ignore the fact that the flu is materially less contagious and dangerous than COVID-19, they ignore we have a vaccine for the flu.

During the 2018-19 flu season, 34,000 people died of flu-related causes in the U.S. That number is almost exactly the average number of flu deaths that have occurred per year in the U.S. since 2010. Of course, these approximately 34,000 deaths occurred over a five- to six-month period — without anyone sheltering in place.

Meanwhile, with shelter-in-place restrictions severely mitigating and arresting the spread of COVID-19 throughout most of the U.S. since Mid-March, over 70,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since March 8. Barely eight weeks.

Fauci didn’t pay the Wuhan lab to create COVID-19.

The NIAID, under Fauci’s leadership since 1984, provides dozens of grants to labs researching infectious diseases. These grants weren’t awarded to work on COVID-19. Many were, however, awarded to perform work on SARS, which spread across the world in 2003. The NIAID also didn’t give the funds directly to the Wuhan Institute. The grants were given instead to the EcoHealth Alliance, which invests in health research globally that led to at least 20 research papers on pre-COVID-19 coronaviruses published over the past six years.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during the daily briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, at the White House April 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Trump is facing criticism from the nations governors over his three phase plan to open the states, citing that more testing is needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The grant referenced in these breathless, innuendo-filled stories about Fauci also wasn’t the first awarded by the NIAID to the EcoHealth Alliance. The NIAID has been providing grants to EcoHealth Alliance to fund infectious disease research projects all over the world, including in Chinese institutes, since 2005.

This “smoking gun” that Fauci conspiracy theorists keep touting is about as big a “Nothing Burger” as one can imagine. But it is about as demonstrative of the claim that Fauci is responsible for COVID-19 as pointing to a specific Jew being the president of CBS as “proof” that the “Jews control the media.”

Bill Gates donates millions to the WHO — so what?

Since retiring from day-to-day management of Microsoft, Gates has made fighting infectious diseases his life’s work. Through his foundation with his wife, Melinda, they have donated billions to try to stop the spread of these diseases. These contributions have led to the development and delivery of life-saving vaccines all over the world. These vaccines have helped to largely eradicate diseases such as measles and polio from plaguing many underdeveloped countries.

Gates is now the target of numerous conspiracy theories, which use the fact that he asked the WHO to stop dithering and to characterize COVID-19 as a pandemic, when Trump also was criticizing the WHO for its delayed reaction and response to the pandemic.

To say that these conspiracy theories about Gates and Fauci, which often are promoted by a cohort of anti-vaxxers as well as anti-Semites, are specious and baseless, is to be kind.

To say that these conspiracy theories about Gates and Fauci, which often are promoted by a cohort of anti-vaxxers as well as anti-Semites, are specious and baseless, is to be kind. Fauci recently stated: “You will always have conspiracy theories when you have very challenging public health crises. They are nothing but distractions.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 06: Andrew Ross Sorkin, Editor at Large, Columnist and Founder, DealBook, The New York Times speaks with Bill Gates, Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation onstage at 2019 New York Times Dealbook on November 06, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times)

But from a Jewish perspective, they are much worse than distractions. They are defamatory attempts at character assassination. They also have regularly occurred when there are challenging health crises. About that, Fauci is spot-on; including with respect to the many conspiracy theories that have targeted the Jewish people, going back to medieval times and the Black Plague.

In Judaism, there is almost nothing worse than defamation.

In Judaism, there is almost nothing worse than defamation, than “lashon harah” (evil speech or talk). So much so, that there are numerous outright instructions and reminders in the Torah and in the Talmud against lashon harah and are expanded upon in the “Chafetz Chaim.” Two of which are applicable here:

    1. It is also forbidden to listen to lashon harah. One should either reprimand the speaker or, if that is not possible, extricate oneself from that situation.
    2. Even if one already has heard the lashon harah, it is forbidden to believe it.

One reason lashon harah is considered so terrible is that the damage it does often cannot be undone. After false information is spread, reputations may be destroyed and the harm done can be irreparable. Of course social media in their various forms, have provided even more opportunities for lashon harah and made it even worse.

Long before the internet and social media, our halachah and our sages recognized how dangerous and pervasive lashon harah is; as well as the importance of avoiding it. This recognition is the reason many of the sins we recite on Yom Kippur refer to sins committed through speech, through lashon harah.

It is why the Talmud states “slander is in the same category with murder.”

But even if one is not motivated by our faith’s values and traditions, there is also a self-serving reason not to engage in, let alone promote, conspiracy theories. It is our history; a history, which has taught us that this type of conspiracy thinking inevitably is aimed at Jews and the Jewish state.

It is reasonable for all of us, Jews and non-Jews, to discuss whether and to what extent we should be lifting or adjusting shelter-in-place restrictions. To be discussing how, and in what stages we can or should open up the economy.

That discussion is occurring in Israel right now, after the country — without any interest in destroying any other country or Trump’s chances at reelection — had a much more stringent lockdown than any state in the U.S. But we can and should engage in that discussion without employing or promoting conspiracy theories. Particularly if we care about our Jewish values.


Mitch Danzig served in the Israeli army and is a former NYPD officer. He is currently an attorney and is active with numerous organizations, including StandWithUs, T.E.A.M. and the FIDF. 

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