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Pandemic Amplified Anti-Semitism Online, Report Found

While physical injuries and private property damage in anti-Semitic incidents decreased in 2020, hateful sentiment was on the rise—especially online.

The social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic may have kept Jews away from people who wish to harm them, but coronavirus lockdowns shifted some hatred online where conspiracy theories blamed Jews for the pandemic’s medical and economic effects, according to an annual report from Tel Aviv University’s researchers on anti-Semitism. This shift has researchers warning that as pandemic restrictions lift, hateful conduct toward Jewish communities and people could intensify—as seen in previous crises throughout history, such as the Bubonic Plague and other pandemics.

“Anti-Jewish hatred online never stays online,” said Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, The Associated Press reported. “We have to be prepared that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories could lead to physical attacks on Jews when lockdowns end.”

The number of violent incidents toward Jews across 40 countries decreased in 2020, from 456 in 2019 to 371. No one was murdered in 2020 for being Jewish, the report found. The number of physical injuries in anti-Semitic incidents decreased by 37 percent (from 170 in 2019 to 107), and damage to private property decreased by 35 percent (from 130 to 84 incidents).

But desecrations of publicly available property—including Jewish cemeteries and memorials—rose by a quarter in 2020, and the number of vandalized synagogues increased by 19 percent.

In addition to physical assaults, extremists began Zoom-bombing video conferences among members of synagogues, Jewish community centers, and educational organizations to post swastikas and deliver anti-Semitic presentations and speeches. The true number of these incidents was hard to measure, the report found.

“Worrying trends continued in Germany and the USA: in Germany a rise was recorded in the total number of incidents, with the opposition to vaccines generating comparisons to the Holocaust, and continued desecration of Jewish memorials and cemeteries; in the U.S. anti-Semitic activities on the Internet have intensified, and focal events like the killing of George Floyd by a police officer, the emergence of the BLM (Black Lives Matter) and Antifa movements, as well as the Presidential elections have engendered conspiracy theories and boosted the activities of white supremacists and QAnon,” the report said.

The general conspiracy theory espouses that Jews and Israelis created and spread the coronavirus so that they could then develop a cure or vaccine and sell it worldwide for a huge profit.

“Over the following months this libel spread rapidly,” the report said. “We received reports to this effect from dozens of countries, in the form of aggressive messages and numerous malicious caricatures. Moreover, 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. It also spread to populations with no well-defined political or ideological identities.”

The number of anti-Semitic posts online dropped by roughly half compared to 2018, largely due to the efforts of leading media companies (including social media such as Facebook and Twitter) to remove hateful speech from their platforms. The report said this effort has pushed some people onto the Dark Web in a search for less policed message boards and media groups, however, where the posts are harder to quantify.