Online antisemitic abuse ‘explodes’ during virus crisis

Image credit: Community Security Trust

By Tim Wyatt

Antisemitic incidents online have hit their highest number on record, according to the Jewish charity the Community Security Trust (CST).

In a report covering January to June this year, the CST logged a total of 344 antisemitic incidents online, an increase of four per cent on the same period in 2019.

The charity warned there had been an “explosion of antisemitic discourses” as soon as news of the coronavirus began circulating earlier this year and said much of the abuse online had sought to directly link Jews and the pandemic.

These reports of online anti-Jewish hatred comprise 44 per cent of the total number of incidents gathered by the CST.

There were 789 incidents in total during the first six months of 2020, a fall from the previous year’s record high of 911. It is still, however, the third highest figure ever recorded by the CST for the January to June period.

Although the surge in online abuse and a fall in physical incidents is probably connected to the coronavirus lockdown, the CST said Jews were already being blamed for Covid-19.

“These range from conspiracy theories about Jewish involvement in creating and spreading COVID-19, or creating and spreading the myth of COVID-19 for various malevolent and financial purposes, to simply wishing and hoping that Jewish people catch the virus and die from it,” the report states.

The CST report notes that tropes about Jews as carriers of disease stretch back as far as the Black Death in the 1340s and were heavily invoked in Nazi propaganda.

In addition, the idea that “Jews are untrustworthy, mendacious and manipulating society for their own purposes remains a hugely popular theme in modern day antisemitism” the report suggests and has been effortlessly adapted to the current pandemic.

There had also been 10 reports of online events held by Jewish groups and synagogues being hijacked by antisemitic content, including prayer meetings and Torah study sessions.

David Delew, the CST’s chief executive, said: “Any reduction in antisemitism is welcome, but it is worrying that even during a national lockdown antisemitic incidents only fell by 13% and new antisemitic lies have emerged to add to old hatreds.

“History tells us that antisemitism grows at times of great social upheaval and we need to ensure the same is not happening here.”

Deputy chief constable Mark Hamilton, the national policing lead for hate crime, said coronavirus had “understandably created much fear in our society and racists have used this to promote their divisive ideologies”.

“As ever, this includes antisemitic conspiracy theories that are unfounded, but are nonetheless widespread on the internet.”

Lord Mann, the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, said: “Despite a good policing response, internet companies are failing to play their role in tackling this hatred and we need to see a robust consistency from all our political parties.”