The Other Virus Infecting the World

By Aaron Kliegman

Next Monday is the first anniversary of the heinous shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California. On April 27, 2019, a gunman opened fire on Jews gathered in the synagogue for services, killing a 60-year-old woman and injuring three other people (including the rabbi). The man charged with perpetrating the attack, John T. Earnest, 20, is awaiting his trial.

The anniversary is a sober reminder that Jew-hatred remains a very real threat, even in the United States in 2020. Indeed, the anniversary comes amid a surge in global antisemitism caused by the coronavirus.

Just this week, Israeli researchers from the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University released their annual assessment on antisemitism worldwide, and the findings are troubling.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant rise in accusations that Jews, as individuals and as a collective, are behind the spread of the virus or are directly profiting from it,” Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said during the report’s release. “The language and imagery used clearly identifies a revival of the medieval ‘blood libels’ when Jews were accused of spreading disease, poisoning wells, or controlling economies.”

The report, which notes an 18 percent increase in antisemitic violence in 2019 over the previous year, also found these same accusations directed at Israelis and Zionists.

Earlier this month, the Community Security Trust released a similar report investigating the “chilling” spread of antisemitic conspiracy theories online linked to the coronavirus.

Much of this antisemitism is coming from the Middle East, with Iran’s Jew-hatred leading the way. But there is also plenty coming from the West, including American universities.

We shouldn’t be surprised about any of this. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which published its own report detailing a surge in antisemitism tied to the pandemic, explained how Jews have a long and tragic history of being accused of spreading deadly viruses dating back to at least the Middle Ages.

“Today, as the world struggles to deal with coronavirus, Jew-haters are hard at work, once again fueling and spreading antisemitism and anti-Israel hatred by blaming Jews for spreading this new virus,” the center said.

Of course, blaming Jews and Israel for the coronavirus is part of a broader wave of antisemitism flooding the world, especially the West. From 2017 to 2018, for example, attacks and threats against French Jews increased by 74 percent. Moreover, data for the first half of 2019 indicated another 75 percent increase last year. The United Kingdom recorded a record number of antisemitic incidents in 2019. The Netherlands experienced a similar trend last year. Right here in the US, orthodox Jews fear being targeted because they are “visibly Jewish.” The problem even reaches Wausau, Wisconsin, where Katie Rosenberg was just elected mayor. Rosenberg may not be Jewish, but she’s being targeted by online antisemitism simply because of her last name.

In this toxic environment, Jews are nervous — again, even in the US. A new survey released this week by the Anti-Defamation League found that about two-thirds of American Jews feel less safe than at any other time in the last 10 years. And the survey was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic. This finding fits with the results of the largest-ever survey of American Jews on antisemitism in America, a project that the American Jewish Committee (AJC) released in October. The AJC’s survey found that 88 percent of American Jews believe antisemitism is a problem in America, 84 percent believe the problem has increased, and, perhaps most troubling of all, 31 percent said they have avoided identifying openly as Jewish — reminiscent of much darker times that many thought were long gone.

The Poway shooting is obviously the most egregious kind of antisemitic incident, but it is also particularly illustrative of what antisemitism really is.

During a preliminary hearing for Earnest’s case in September, the court heard a 911 call that, prosecutors say, he made after fleeing the scene of the shooting.

“I’m defending my nation against the Jewish people, who are trying to destroy all white people,” Earnest said in the recording.

The recording fits with a racist and anti-Jewish manifesto that Earnest published around the time of the attack. He wrote that Jews want to “replace” whites and are responsible for the genocide of the “European race.” He also called President Trump “Zionist Jew-loving, anti-white,” and “traitorous.”

Clearly, Earnest is a radical, antisemitic white supremacist who portrays Jews as enemies of white people. Yet there is a common narrative among antisemites and Israel-haters on the political left that Israel is a country full of white Europeans who oppress people of color, and that President Trump is an anti-Semite — in other words, the exact opposite of the shooter’s narrative.

Why does this comparison matter? It shows how futile it is to try to explain or rationalize antisemitic crimes and incidents, because anti-Semites apply their views in such absurd, contradictory ways. Historically, Jews have been hated and persecuted because they are poor and rich, communists and capitalists, traditionalists and cosmopolitans, in isolated corners and integrated into society. The missing piece to this warped puzzle is that antisemitism is a unique form of bigotry because it is, fundamentally, not really defined by hatred and persecution of Jews, but rather by attributing to Jews a cosmic, satanic evil — Jews are the puppet masters pulling the world’s strings. Hating Jews for whatever reason is irrational enough, but believing they are responsible for all of the world’s ills is even more deranged, hence the wild contradictions. Blaming Jews for the coronavirus is a case in point.

What explains this delusional worldview? To begin to understand it, we need to remember that, as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks explains, antisemitism is not actually about Jews. It is about anti-Semites, who can’t accept responsibility for their own troubles and must blame others. Historically, Jews have been the scapegoats of choice, and remain so today. Again, just look at the current pandemic.

Because antisemitism uniquely attributes to its victims an ultimate level of evil, its perpetrators often seek to expel the Jewish people or exterminate them — from ancient times, into the Middle Ages, and certainly through the 20th century to now. Discrimination isn’t enough: Jews need to be pushed out or eliminated, according to the antisemitic mind.

Today, in our sophisticated, “post-modern” society, the world’s newest disease is bringing out civilization’s oldest virus. And the anniversary of the Poway shooting is a reminder that this virus will long outlive the current pandemic — and has the potential to cause far more destruction.

Aaron Kliegman is a freelance writer based in Virginia. Previously, he was a staff writer and news editor at the Washington Free Beacon, where he wrote analysis and commentary on foreign policy and national security. Aaron’s work has been published in a range of publications, and he has a master’s degree in international relations. Aaron is now writing regular columns for the Inner Circle as a contributor, and I am excited to have him on the Gingrich 360 team. — Newt