Pandemic and Online Media Drove ‘Historically High’ and ‘Innovative’ Antisemitism in 2020: Annual Report by UK Jewish Group
The coronavirus pandemic and online media are playing a larger role in spreading antisemitism, according to a new report by a leading Jewish organization in the United Kingdom.
The report, Antisemitic Incidents Report 2020, was released Thursday by the Community Security Trust, which advises on terrorism, antisemitism and other security issues. It found that while incidents have dropped off slightly in comparison to 2019, they were often connected to COVID-19 and found online.
The CST found that 1,668 antisemitic incidents took place in the UK in 2020. While this is the third-highest total the CST has recorded, it nonetheless represents a decrease of 8% compared to 2019.
It also said the pandemic has led antisemites to be increasingly “innovative” in their attacks the Jewish community, providing “new strands” of hateful discourse.
One new method of harassment has been attacks on Jewish events held virtually due to lockdowns, with the online events “hijacked” and used to spread antisemitic material. The CST describes this as “an entirely new type of incident … demonstrating the ability, opportunism, and speed of antisemitic offenders to adapt to a new social reality.”
In addition, the pandemic itself has led to changes in the nature of antisemitic ideas and rhetoric. The CST recorded 41 incidents in 2020 that involved antisemitism related directly to the pandemic; often, they involved conspiracy theories claiming that Jews created the coronavirus or are deliberately spreading it for nefarious reasons.
The pandemic lockdowns were likely responsible for the slight drop in incidents since the prior year, the report said. Restricted movement meant less opportunities to commit antisemitic acts, which have peaked at moments immediately before and after lockdowns.
But the CST argued that the rise of pandemic-related antisemitism is indicative of a wider trend: “antisemitism follows events in the news cycle and public interest, almost irrespective of their relevance to the Jewish community.” As a result, antisemitic incidents often cluster around major news events, holidays, or anniversaries, such as pandemic lockdowns, Holocaust Memorial Day, and the controversy over antisemitism in the Labour party.
The media environment also has an effect when major celebrities or social media influencers engage in antisemitism, such as the artist Wiley, who unleashed an antisemitic rant in July 2020. CST recorded over 20 incidents “in which the offender either attempted to justify Wiley’s antisemitic ideas or targets those who spoke out against them with further antisemitic abuse.”
These incidents have increasingly moved online during the pandemic, with CST noting the “growing role that online platforms serve as a hotbed for hate.” These platforms, it said, “represent an especially convenient, far-reaching, anonymizing, and secure-feeling environment for those who wish to voice and incite hatred.”
At its extreme, said the CST, this can lead to social media being “used as a tool for coordinated campaigns of antisemitic harassment, threats, and abuse directed at Jewish public figures and other individuals.”