The Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Humanities, in cooperation with the European Jewish Congress, released the Antisemitism Report for 2020, the year of the novel coronavirus.

The results indicated contradictory trends: On the one hand, a decrease was seen in physical violence due to lockdowns put in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19, which reduced encounters between Jews and violent anti-Semites; and on the other, accusations against the Jews, who were allegedly responsible for the global pandemic and disastrous results, were manifested in a rise of blatant anti-Semitic expression on the Internet in general and social networks specifically.

The report is based on thousands of testimonies from different places around the globe, received throughout 2020 from the international network established by the Kantor Center several years ago, which includes about 60 participants who regularly send in information about anti-Semitism worldwide.

Professor Dina Porat, head of the Kantor Center, said “the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting reality dictated both the nature and extent of anti-Semitism in 2020, which was an unusually tense and turbulent year all over the world. Prejudice, superstition, primordial emotions and bizarre theories surfaced on the scene, and manifestations of anti-Semitism, both verbal and visual, were vicious and outrageous. Blaming the Jews and Israelis for developing and spreading the coronavirus (or ‘Judeovirus’) was the main motif in this year’s anti-Semitic manifestations. This notion is rooted in deep fear of the Jew/Israeli as a spreader of disease in both the past and present.”

Die Pointe des Coronawitzes: The entrance to Auschwitz with the words “Vaccination liberates (or sets you free)” instead of “Work liberates (or sets you free).” Credit: Kantor Anti-Semitism Report, ©Götlz Wiedenroth.

The rise of the pandemic was followed by accusations that the virus had been developed and was being proliferated by Jews and Israelis, and that they were the ones who would find a cure and vaccine for the disease, selling it to the ailing world and making a huge profit. Over the following months, this libel spread rapidly.

Reports to this effect came from dozens of countries in the form of aggressive messages and malicious caricatures. The accusation was heard not only from extremist circles, such as white supremacists, ultra-conservative Christians or the usual accusers like Iran, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority, and especially Iran, which invested efforts in disseminating the accusation. It also spread to populations with no well-defined political or ideological identities.

Lockdowns in countries the world over reduced encounters between Jews and their ill-wishers; consequently, the number of violent events declined in 2020 from 456 to 371—a number that was typical of 2016 to 2018. No one was murdered this year for being Jewish (even though physical attacks could have led to the loss of life), and the number of bodily injuries decreased from 170 in 2019 to 107 in 2020.

Damage to private property was also reduced from 130 to 84 incidents because most people stayed at home. In many countries, a decrease was registered in the number of violent incidents against Jews, attacks on people and their property, and threats and arson.

Nevertheless, vandalism towards Jewish communal property and institutions remained as it was before, and in some cases even increased. The number of desecrations of graveyards, Holocaust memorials and other Jewish monuments rose from 77 (2019) to 96 (2020) incidents worldwide because these sites are open and unprotected. The number of vandalized synagogues also increased from 53 (2019) to 63 (2020) since being closed, they became easy prey.

Anti-Semitism in the form of “COVID-19 under a microscope.” Credit: Kantor Anti-Semitism Report via www.adl.org/blog/coronavirus-crisis-elevates-antisemitic-racist-tropes.

A significant decline was noted in Australia, the United Kingdom, and especially France, where the Ministry of the Interior and the Jewish Community both reported a drop of 50 percent in all types of anti-Semitic incidents, due to the tight lockdown, as well as Canada, where the number of violent cases dropped by more than half. Most incidents occurred in countries with large

Jewish communities: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France and Germany. In all other countries, with the exception of Ukraine, less than 10 incidents (per country) were reported in 2020.

Since public spaces were shut down during the pandemic, activities on social media, including anti-Semitic activities, increased significantly, characterized by aggressiveness and verbal abuse. Such phenomena, however, are inherently difficult to quantify, though two major forms stood out: Zoombombing and instances on the darknet. In the United States alone, 200 cases of Zoombombing were registered. As for the darknet, extremist groups, especially from the far-right, such as white supremacists and neo-Nazis, left open social networks and descended into the darknet, where they could be free of supervision or restrictions.

Vaccine opponents often equated the restrictions and lockdowns for containing the pandemic with policies of the German Nazi regime accusing the establishment and governments in various countries of applying means of coercion: lockdowns were compared to incarceration in ghettos and concentration camps; vaccines were described as medical experiments; certificates granting privileges after vaccination was seen as the infamous “selection” procedure in Nazi death camps; anti-vaxxers felt that they were as undesirable and persecuted as the Jews had been; the epitaph on the gate to Auschwitz served as a source for the new slogan “Vaccination Liberates”; and more.

In Germany, where opposition to the vaccines is particularly strong, demonstrators wore a yellow star on their clothes with the word “unvaccinated” replacing the word “Jew” and called German Chancellor Angela Merkel a Nazi. The advent of the vaccines, coupled with Israel’s vast vaccination campaign, assisted by Israelis and Jews who hold prominent positions in the companies that produce these vaccines, like Tal Zaks, chief medical officer at Moderna, and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, reinforced those accusations.

See the complete report here.