For centuries, the dissemination of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories has led to Jews being persecuted, tortured and murdered across the globe. Now modern versions of old antisemitic conspiracy theories are being circulated online while violent anti-Jewish demonstrations escalate in Europe and North America.
Antisemitic tweets talk of “the distorted Jewish books (Old Testament books)” and the idea that “Zionist Israelites” kill indiscriminately because “the blood of the Jews is in their veins.” Both tweets have been reported, but neither has been taken down. Adeel Raja, A CNN contributor, tweeted “The world today needs a Hitler.” He will no longer be working for CNN, and that anti-Jewish tweet was deleted, as were other antisemitic tweets, but his account was not terminated. A tweet purportedly quoting Hitler has been deleted for violating Twitter’s rules. The account, however, which has over 1.2 million followers, was not suspended.
According to the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), where both authors are affiliated, “extremist hashtags and slogans are upstream predictors of real-world violence and unrest.” In a disturbing example, the antisemitic hashtag #Covid1948 has been trending on Twitter in several countries, including the United States. Often accompanied by nakedly anti-Jewish content, the hashtag likens the birth of the state of Israel in 1948 to the COVID-19 virus. According to the NCRI, the hateful hashtag was shared up to 175 times per minute for over 4 hours on May 13. It often appears alongside #FreePalestine and is associated with other antisemitic hashtags like #Hitlerwasright and #Zionazi.
The antisemitic hashtag #Covid1948 has been trending on Twitter in several countries.
The #Covid1948 hashtag coincides with an offline global surge of anti-Jewish rhetoric and violence. In London, Palestinian demonstrators drove through the city, chanting “fuck the Jews, rape their daughters.” In Germany, Palestinian demonstrators gathered in front of a Synagogue, throwing rocks and shouting “shitty Jews” (“scheisse Juden”). Synagogues in Spain and the United Kingdom have also been vandalized. In Brussels, London and Paris, Palestinian demonstrators chanted “Khaybar, Khaybar, ya yahud, Jaish Muhammed sa yahud” (“Jews, remember Khaybar, the army of Muhammed is returning”), a reference to a battle led by Muhammed in which Jews were massacred. Threats against Jews in Britain have risen 400% since the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas began.
— یاسین فتحی (@yasin_fathi2000) May 13, 2021
In Los Angeles, Palestinian demonstrators asked a group of diners if they were Jewish and attacked those who identified as Jewish. Also in California, an Orthodox Jewish man on foot was pursued by cars waving Palestinian flags. In New York, a Jewish man was struck on the head by Palestinian demonstrators and escorted to safety by police. In Florida, a van that read “Hitler was right,” “Rabbis rape kids,” “Holocaust never happened,” “We hate kikes” and other neo-Nazi slogans drove in circles around a group of Jews at a peace rally.
On Twitter, meanwhile, antisemitic posts insinuate that Jews are responsible for COVID-19 and have nefarious plans regarding the vaccine. Blaming Jews for pandemics has a long history. In the fourteenth century, Jews were accused of causing the bubonic plague by poisoning wells. Violent anti-Jewish riots and massacres broke out all over Europe, and surviving Jews fled to Eastern Europe. In the 1890s, Jewish immigrants, escaping persecution and pogroms in Eastern Europe, arrived in New York only to be blamed for an outbreak of cholera. Today’s version of the idea that Jews carry or represent illness is reflected in tweets that refer to Hamas rockets launched at Israeli citizens as “a vaccine.”
Other tweets regurgitate versions of additional historical anti-Jewish disinformation. This month, a verified account belonging to the Iranian outlet “Press TV” tweeted an article that promotes familiar antisemitic lies, including that for Jews, “violence is a ‘sacramental’ act or ‘divine duty,’” and “The goal of Zionist terrorism is to unite all Zionists into one state and dominate the world.” That article combines versions of the antisemitic blood libel (the idea that Jews use the blood of non-Jews in religious rituals) with the insidious conspiracy theory that Jewish overrepresentation in fields like media, finance and government is part of a covert Jewish plot of global domination.
“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is still used by antisemites as “evidence” of this alleged Jewish plot to take over the world. The Protocols, written by Russian Jew-haters at the turn of the twentieth century, purports to be notes from a secret Jewish global domination planning session. Translated into multiple languages and circulated internationally for decades –– including in the United States –– The Protocols has convinced untold numbers of people that through establishing a “Super-Government,” Jews conspire to take “command of the world.”
Analysis by the NCRI has determined that the most prolific accounts amplifying antisemitism with the #Covid1948 hashtag are self-identified Iranian accounts, the majority created in April 2020. Similar content tweeted by multiple simultaneously-created accounts often represents coordinated online activity and can even suggest the involvement of state actors. In this case, it would not be surprising. Iran, a designated state sponsor of terrorism, funds Hamas terrorist attacks, and is known for disseminating disinformation online. Twitter suspended several of the accounts after their most recent antisemitic activity, but a tremendous amount of antisemitic content remains. And Jews across the globe are asking themselves if this is just the beginning.
Pamela Paresky, PhD, is a writer for Psychology Today, author of A Year of Kindness and was the chief researcher and in-house editor for the New York Times bestseller, “The Coddling of the American Mind.” She serves as Visiting Senior Research Associate at the University of Chicago’s Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge and Senior Scholar at the Network Contagion Research Institute, where she researches extremism and anti-Semitism. Follow her on Twitter @PamelaParesky
Alex Goldenberg is the Lead Intelligence Analyst at the Network Contagion Research Institute, focusing on misinformation, disinformation, online extremism and the intersection of technology and hate. His recent research has appeared in NBC News, The Atlantic, The Brookings Institute, NPR, Forbes, Vice News and other media outlets.