Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt discussed some of the recent anti-Semitic conspiracy theories online regarding the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 and how the ADL’s recent guide on anti-Semitism can help combat it.
In a phone interview with the Journal on March 16, Greenblatt said the theories have generally revolved around the idea that Jews are behind the coronavirus pandemic. He pointed to tweets from former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke suggesting that George Soros has played a role in the coronavirus epidemic. He added there has also been a lot of white supremacist chatter in online forums regarding coronavirus.
“We’ve seen white supremacists rejoice that Israel is experiencing a high number of cases,” Greenblatt said. “We’ve also seen them using platforms like Telegram and 4chan and Gab, where they’ve been promoting the idea that… [coronavirus] is a bioengineering weapon that allowed ‘globalists’ to destroy the Western world, as if this is some kind of conspiracy.”
On Facebook and Twitter, Jewish students at George Washington University (GWU) were harassed after they attended the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, D.C. earlier this month. GWU placed students in quarantine for 12 hours on March 6 after it became known that multiple attendees had tested positive for the virus. The social media accounts harassing these students tried to draw “a causal relationship between AIPAC and the coronavirus,” Greenblatt said.
“We’ve also seen other Twitter and Facebook accounts accusing Jews or Israel of creating the virus to kill non-Jews so they can profit from the vaccine,” he added. “And we’ve seen Iran claim that Zionists are behind the coronavirus, which is also absurd.”
“This harkens back to Jews and money. This harkens back to Jews and legitimacy. The historical echoes are sort of obvious.” — Jonathan Greenblatt
These anti-Semitic conspiracies echo the blood libels highlighted in the ADL’s “Anti-Semitism Uncovered: A Guide to Old Myths in a New Era” released on March 12, Greenblatt said.
“This harkens back to Jews and money,” he said. “This harkens back to Jews and legitimacy. The historical echoes are sort of obvious.”
According to Greenblatt, the guide explains the history of anti-Semitism worldwide and America and then highlights the seven most prominent anti-Semitic tropes –– having too much power, dual loyalty, Holocaust denialism, greediness, killing Jesus, using Christian blood for rituals, and the demonization of Israel –– and how to address them.
For instance, Greenblatt explained, the “Disloyalty” section lists as examples Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-Mich.) January 2019 tweet that senators who voted in favor of anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) legislation “forgot what country they represent” as well as President Donald Trump saying in September that Jews who vote Democrat are “very disloyal to Israel.”
“When anti-Semitism is normalized, no one can tell who has legitimate expertise,” Greenblatt said. “So we felt like it was critical to get out in front with the kind of resource that would be both accessible and also well-researched with something that would be grounded in history but dynamic and almost, if you will, a living document — something that would stand the test of scholarship but also be effective in a social media environment.”
He added that the guide is especially tailored toward those who influence public opinion.“It was written for the hypothetical legislative staff of a congressperson, or the editorial board of a broadcast network, or the standards team of a social media company, or the speechwriting staff of a presidential candidate,” Greenblatt said.
He urged those in positions of power to call out anti-Semitism and for people to educate themselves on the matter.
“When you see hate in your Facebook feed, in your Twitter stream – whether it’s flagging a user or just forcefully calling it out – everybody can play a role,” Greenblatt said. “But it’s not just about intervening and interrupting hate when it happens, it’s also about educating yourself. And hopefully ‘Anti-Semitism Uncovered’ is a resource that people can use in that regard.”