Deputy Antisemitism Envoy: Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories a Modern-Day Blood Libel
JNS.org – US Deputy Antisemitism Envoy Ellie Cohanim warned of a new form of antisemitism emerging during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and urged Jewish leaders that it is time the US Jewish community focused on proactive steps to erase hate.
The “coronavirus conspiracy theory [is] a modern-day blood libel, where Jews or the State of Israel is blamed for the pandemic,” she told Jewish leaders on Monday. She said these theories suggest that the Jews and/or Israel either created the virus; that it is being used to dominate the world and control the Palestinians; or that the Jews and/or the State of Israel will profit from the disease.
“It is not being spread by the usual bad actors on the dark web or elsewhere,” she said, “but by government officials spreading the lies—from Turkey, the Palestinian Authority and Iran.”
Cohanim, who was tapped as the US deputy envoy on antisemitism in December 2019, shared her thoughts on the global rise of antisemitism. She also noted some positive overtures coming out of the Arab world during a Zoom meeting on June 29 sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
“To win the war on antisemitism, we have to take an offensive posture, and this is why I’m turning to you,” she said. “It’s time for the Jewish community to really take pride in our heritage and our history.”
In introducing Cohanim, Gideon Taylor—a member of the executive committee at the JCRC-NY—noted that the “dramatic rise in antisemitic incidents in the United States and around the world” has left many “shocked and pained to see things we would never have imagined we would see, and that makes it even more important” to have leaders who will speak up and advocate for the Jewish community.
During her talk, Cohanim said the United States focuses on fighting three sources of antisemitism around the world: classical far-right, neo-Nazi extremism; radical left-wing fringe groups; and radical Islam, with resources allocated to fight each of these threats.
While speaking about Iran, the “No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism,” Cohanim, who fled Iran with her family during the 1979 revolution, said she had learned two lessons from her family’s experience: that even societies welcoming or hospitable to Jews, like Iran was under the Shah, “can suddenly flip overnight”; and that Jews can “never underestimate the threat of antisemitism.”
The briefing wasn’t all bad news, however.
Cohanim addressed some positive developments coming out of the Arab world, particularly the warming relations between Arab countries, including Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, with Israel. Among those developments was the playing of the Israeli national anthem “Hatikvah” during a Judo competition in Bahrain, in addition to a tour by a 25-member delegation of Muslim world leaders, including a leading religious leader from Saudi Arabia, to Auschwitz.
Shifts in relationships are taking place, she said, and these “new realities” bode well for seeking a lasting peace in the region.
Stepping into ‘anti-Zionism territory’
During her nearly one-hour discussion and question-and-answer session, Cohanim took umbrage to suggestions that her boss, US President Donald Trump, is fanning the flames of antisemitism. Calling the president “philosemitic,” she said that anyone who tries to deny his support of Israel “is doing it for their own political motives and political gains.”
Cohanim also responded to a question about the possible extension of sovereignty by Israel of the Jordan Valley, and parts of Judea and Samaria (widely referred to as the West Bank) with concerns that many US Jewish groups have that it may lead to increases in antisemitism and anti-Israel attitudes in the media.
“Just the fact that American Jewry is nervous about this shows that we have been conditioned to feel the antisemitism in our bones,” she said, noting that no other country is subjected to the same kind of scrutiny when they make decisions for their populace. Such singling out of Israel’s actions as a “sovereign nation” show that there remains underlying antisemitism in the world.
And as far as the notion that one can be anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic, Cohanim said the US policy is that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Full stop.”
In many cases, though, the red line for crossing over into antisemitism comes when the existence of Israel is up for debate.
When people criticize other countries for action they have taken, that doesn’t lead to a discussion about the country’s right to exist. “That’s not an argument people make other than [with] the State of Israel, and that’s why it’s clear that this notion that you can be anti-Zionist and not be antisemitic is a slight of hand. It’s become the polite way to be antisemitic today.”
As she said, “at a dinner party, you may not be able to get away with being antisemitic.”
What can be gotten away with, she explained, is stepping into “anti-Zionism territory” by saying, “I’m not against the Jews, but against the Jewish entity, the State of Israel.”