A plague upon our house

Throughout the ages, the Jews of Europe and the Middle East have been marked as a scapegoat when natural calamities struck. In most communities, they were considered foreigners and subsequently labeled as “unclean.” One notorious example is the Second Bubonic Plague, which killed a third of Europe’s population during the Middle Ages. Some Jewish communities were spared from the bacteria’s infection but simply because of the ritual to wash hands. During these days of Passover, we are reliving history with another plague: COVID-19, which has reached every corner of the globe. Demonstrated by a staggering infection rate and mounting death toll that include the wealthy and influential, this virus does not discriminate.

No community has been spared the impact of this deadly virus. Yet, featured prominently in the headlines has been how widely it has spread among the ultra-Orthodox communities in places like Brooklyn and Lakewood, New Jersey. Unfortunately, these communities had not taken the necessary precautions to curb contagion among the residents. While their leadership should be held accountable, the optics of focusing on their behavior has encouraged anti-Semitic elements.

The Disease of Hate

We were already living through one of the most divisive eras in American history, which the coronavirus has only exacerbated. A quarantine that has shattered our social norms and nearly brought our economy to a halt. With so many people stuck at home in front of their screens, the cybersphere has seen a resurgence of online hate. Some of this has been state-sponsored, with the Iranian regime predictably blaming the Zionists–as well as the CIA and jinn (demons)–for fumbling its handling of the virus. But hatred is also being driven at the local level by anti-Semites much closer to home, as highlighted in this Forward article:

“As early reports of coronavirus circulated, people posting on texting platforms such as Telegram hypothesized that the disease was a Jewish plot, posters also claimed that Jews were using coronavirus to manipulate the stock market to their advantage, that the coronavirus was a ‘partnership between Zionists and the deep state’ to target President Trump during the election season and that Jewish companies patented a coronavirus vaccine years ago and intended to profit from selling it.”

There has regrettably been an uptick on public platforms such as Twitter and Reddit, as well as group-chat focused social platforms such as Telegram and WhatsApp. As per usual, social media giants have been dragging their feet to combat this. Rather than the usual refrain of not wanting to censor free speech, this time they claim to be understaffed.

To see some contemporary research conducted by the CST, our sister organization in the UK, please click here.

We at CSS have already witnessed a distinct increase in hateful tweets directed at Jews, painting our community as complicit in the spread of the contagion.

Real Threats of Violence

If people are still confined to their homes over the coming weeks, we will likely see the underprivileged parts of our society begin to slowly unravel at the seams. Denied of income and short of savings. There is a chance that criminal activity may rise, with people pushed to desperation and criminals considering it an opportune time to act. If that is the case, we may also witness a spike in hate crimes, similar to what the Asian-Asian community has already experienced. The threat of violence is quite real, with bigots such as David Duke and his ilk fanning the flames during these heated times. As reported by the advocacy organization CAMERA “speculating that President Donald Trump might have contracted Covid-19 from the Brazilian president’s Jewish aide, he tweeted, “Are Israel and the Global Zionist elite up to their old tricks?”

In places like New Jersey, hit hard on account of its proximity to New York, there have been cases of planned attacks against the ultra-Orthodox community. In towns like Lakewood, tensions had already almost boiled over, as some locals have not taken well to the growth of the local Jewish community. A deputy fire marshal in Ocean County, which includes Lakewood, is currently under investigation for anti-Semitic remarks he posted to Facebook. New Jersey governor Phil Murphy called those peddling this kind of hate as deserving “a special place in hell.” But the threats are real and will only continue to spread as the virus does.

We are all aware of the idea of “social distancing” and steps we can take to “flatten the curve” of this pandemic. What we need to be aware of now, along with other health and economic pressures, is that anti-Semitism and hate will rear more of their ugly heads during this crisis. This is not the first time this has happened in history, but it is a burden we must do more than bear. It is one we must fight.