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August 3, 2020 1:28 pm

Antisemitism Is ‘Front and Center’ in Reactions to Coronavirus Pandemic, Expert Says

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A man holding an antisemitic sign at a protest in Columbus, Ohio. Photo: Twitter.

The global Jewish community is facing rising antisemitism due to the coronavirus pandemic, a senior Anti-Defamation League (ADL) says.

During a recent webinar titled “Anti-Semitism: Combatting the Other Global Pandemic,” hosted by the American Society of the University of Haifa, ADL Senior Vice President of International Affairs Dr. Sharon S. Nazarian said, “As a vulnerable minority Jews feel sensitive to the rise of conspiracy theories — particularly in non-democratic governments which use scapegoating of minorities, and especially Jews, to deflect from their own failures.”

“Governments that are not able to provide for their own citizens really use conspiracy theories as a mechanism for deflecting blame,” she added.

Nazarian noted that in her conversations with Jewish communities in many countries, “one of the very common themes we saw were the economic anxieties people were expecting to happen.”

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“Jewish communities know that not only the pandemic itself, but the economic impact of a major slowdown like huge unemployment, what that historically rises to,” she continued. “Usually, the front and center of the reaction is antisemitism.”

Nazarian also addressed concerns about the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been accused of antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

“You have a big umbrella, with lots of organizations under it advocating for very similar issues and causes,” she pointed out.

“We will call out antisemitism at ADL as we always have, at any instance where we see it,” she pledged, “but as a civil rights organization with a long history of battling for civil rights, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the civil rights leaders of this country and all the people out demonstrating who really believe this is a moment of reckoning, and that we have to look at police brutality, and that we have to look at the racism that exists in the institutions in this country.”

“When that narrative crosses the line and is hijacked into antisemitic or anti-Israel narrative, then we will call it out no questions asked,” Nazarian said.

Turning to the much-discussed role of social media platforms in spreading antisemitism, Nazarian said that companies like Facebook must “come to terms with the fact that they have a role to play here and they have to be part of the solution.”

“This is a moment of reckoning where these privately held companies have a responsibility just like any other sector, like the automobile industry and others, for the safety of their customers,” she declared.

Commenting on a recent Haifa University and Institute for Counter Terrorism study that examined the platform TikTok, Nazarian said the company “targets very young people, and because access to this hate language and specifically antisemitic language is so readily available and the algorithms continue to provide you with more of it, I’m glad the attention has been brought onto TikTok through this study.”

“I think it’s the responsibility of parents to know as much as we can, what are our children are watching and experiencing, and also to explain to our children how those algorithms work — that even if you’re not seeking it out, it will come to you,” she stated. “It takes both sides, putting pressure on the platforms but also education.”

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