Likewise, blaming Jews for the spread of diseases and other societal ills has remained a key feature of antisemitism for centuries. Throughout history, Jews have often been directly blamed for the spread of diseases, from the Black Plague in the 14th century, when Jewish people were accused of “poisoning the wells,” to the present, when Orthodox Jewish communities have been demonized and attacked in relation to a recent measles outbreak.
And now we have COVID-19, where both Jewish Americans and Americans of Chinese descent are being blamed for spreading the virus, even when scientists are telling us emphatically that this disease is not being transmitted by any one religious or ethnic group but can be spread by anyone coming into contact with someone who already has been infected.
A different world:I can’t believe how much coronavirus has changed America in a week
There have been posts on notoriously extremist-friendly platforms like Telegram, 4chan and Gablinking the coronavirus to racist and antisemitic slurs and memes. Users across these channels regularly share racist messages or caricatures of Chinese people, mocking their eating habits, accents and hygiene. Posters on Telegram and 4chan appear to be cheering on the virus, hoping it will spread to predominately non-white countries.
It has also started to enter the mainstream, as political leaders and those in positions of influence have picked up on these themes. Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has been tied to extremist groups, lamented that no major media outlet has asked about “George Soros’s involvement in this FLU panic. He is SOMEWHERE involved in this.” Here, we believe the former sheriff is invoking the antisemitic conspiracy theory of “Jewish power,” insinuating that the Jewish philanthropist is somehow using his influence and wealth to create a global pandemic.
Finding opportunities for racism
Similarly, people are using coronavirus news as an opportunity to disparage Jews on social media. After news broke that George Washington University had quarantined students who attended this year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference, some students reported they were being harassed on Twitter — and even in person — with antisemitic messages. And we have seen hateful messages directed at Jewish communities in New York where a COVID-19 outbreak started last week.
Beyond the antisemitic incidents, we have seen attempts by some elected officials and others in positions of authority to eschew generic medical terms for the epidemic, such as Coronavirus or the World Health Organization’s name for it “COVID-19.” Instead, some are opting to refer to it as the “Wuhan Virus,” seemingly to emphasize its origins in China. Others have referred to COVID-19 as a “Chinese coronavirus” or the “Kung Flu.” While some might think it reasonable to describe the disease in this manner, such descriptions have real consequences, because they can contribute to scapegoating and xenophobia.
In just one example, a 59-year-old Asian man was kicked in the back and told to go back to his country. There’s also been a rise in racist, anti-Chinese incidents overseas, and a troubling protest outside Sacramento International Airport. And we know that hate crimes historically are underreported, so this likely represents just the tip of the iceberg for incidents of harassment and violence.
A differing point of view:No, calling the novel coronavirus the ‘Wuhan virus’ is not racist
While we deal with this national emergency, civic leaders and people in positions of authority should refer to this virus by its clinical and factual name. It is likewise important for all Americans to come together and stand against the anti-Asian and anti-Jewish blame game that’s playing out in some corners of society.
Scapegoating is something we never should tolerate, especially not now. We can and will come through this crisis but only if we work together.
While our top scientists, medical professionals, first responders and policymakers continue to develop and implement plans and rules to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, let’s do our part as a people and as a country to prevent hate and bigotry from becoming a side effect of the virus.
Andrew Yang is an entrepreneur and former presidential candidate. Jonathan A. Greenblatt is CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. Follow them on Twitter: @AndrewYang and @JGreenblattADL