COVID-19 antisemitism reaches Australia

Australians have been posting comments and sharing various images online, portraying the coronavirus as a ‘Jew’, as well as accusing Jews of creating and spreading the virus.

A placard reading ‘The real plague’, depicting a Jew as a rat, brandished at an anti-lockdown protest in Ohio.

Photo: Twitter
A placard reading ‘The real plague’, depicting a Jew as a rat, brandished at an anti-lockdown protest in Ohio. Photo: Twitter

ACCUSATIONS that Jews created coronavirus, that affected Jews are being punished, and calling COVID-19 the “Jew flu” are just some examples of antisemitism expressed online by Australians during the current pandemic.

It comes amid a global trend of antisemitism tied to the outbreak, with Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz saying this week that antisemitism, which was already on the rise, “has gotten another boost”. 

“We can’t allow this phenomenon to become legitimised by repetition. We need to join hands with Diaspora Jewish communities … to uproot this scourge wherever it shows its head,” he said.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry research director and Australian Hate Crime Network (AHCN) co-convenor Julie Nathan, who has been documenting Australian examples, said although the discourse is the latest mutation of antisemitism, “It relies on the familiar dehumanising techniques deployed by all racism.

“Australian racists online have been posting comments and sharing various images, presumably originating from overseas, portraying the coronavirus as a ‘Jew’, as well as accusing ‘the Jews’ of creating and spreading the virus, and expressing the wish that all Jews die from the virus,” she said. 

“It is disconcerting, but not surprising, that antisemites are using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to attack Jews online and to spread anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.”

She said it was too early to conclude whether the number itself of antisemitic incidents in Australia has changed during the pandemic.

Specific examples include “the coronavirus coming from a jewish laboratory”, “sh_t like this makes me wonder if it’s all another elaborate jew scam. Siphon off our money through bailouts. Crash the economy and buy everything up cheap” and “it affects Jews disproportionately and it looks more and more like God is telling people something”.

Cartoons shared online feature the SARS-CoV-2 virus combined with hooked-nosed caricatures of Jews and yellow stars.

Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich said the old medieval blood libel of Jews spreading the Black Death plague has “been reconfigured”.

“It is alarming that antisemitic conspiracy theories blaming and scapegoating Jews and Israel are circulating on Australian sites and on social media pages,” he said. 

“We call on people to immediately report such instances to platform administrators.”

AHCN has called for greater vigilance in countering racism and other forms of bigotry erupting amid the pandemic, including against Asian Australians, the Muslim community, LGBTIQ Australians and the disabled.

“We must be very concerned at the many malicious conspiracy theories which are flourishing online. Some of them are antisemitic and all of them mislead and misdirect those who would not be aware of the dishonesty and disingenuity contained within them,” Jeremy Jones of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council said.

He noted that while most of the hateful content is generated overseas, “We must be concerned that it can have real world effects on both those misguided enough to accept it and those targeted by it.”

Noting there had been an increase in antisemitism prior to the outbreak, Community Security Group (CSG) Victoria CEO Justin Kagan expressed concern how it might affect attitudes once the pandemic was over.

He encouraged anyone who sees such incitement to report it to the CSG in their state.

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