ADL Warns of Rise of Online anti-Semitism Since Start of Coronavirus Crisis

Ultra-Orthodox community targeted by biased media coverage now suffering covert and veiled attacks on mainstream social media, group reports

Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
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A COVID-19 testing tent on a sidewalk in a predominantly Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York, March 27, 2020.
A COVID-19 testing tent on a sidewalk in a predominantly Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York, March 27, 2020.Credit: John Minchillo,AP
Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri

The Anti-Defamation League said it has recorded a “significant increase” in anti-Semitic social media posts over the last months, targeting Orthodox Jewish communities in New York and New Jersey, especially in relation to COVID-19. 

When the coronavirus pandemic began spreading in New York and social distancing guidelines were introduced in March, many expressed concern that the crisis might see a return of the anti-Semitic rhetoric that emerged during the measles outbreak last year, which was largely directed at Orthodox Jews.

Despite Orthodox leaders, including prominent rabbis, overwhelmingly instructing community members to follow the guidelines, many feel that media reports have been heavily focusing on a minority of Orthodox Jews who failed to comply, leading to generalizations about the community. 

After Mayor Bill de Blasio put out a tweet on Tuesday night blasting “the Jewish community” as a whole for a crowded Hasidic funeral in Williamsburg - which was planned with the NYPD - Jewish groups from across the spectrum condemned his generalization of the community and warned that it could exacerbate these anti-Semitic sentiments.

As the ADL put it, coronavirus-related anti-Semitic social media can be categorized into seven patterns.

First, a large portion of the comments have engaged in generalized blame, pointing fingers at the entire Orthodox Jewish community for spreading COVID-19 to non-religious individuals, even suggesting that all Haredi communities in the world disobey social distancing. 

Some comments also suggest that Orthodox communities be forcibly separated, “contained”, “isolated” and “sealed off” from the rest of the community.

A third pattern the ADL notes is the suggestion that Orthodox Jews should be denied medical treatment if they get sick.

“Why are we wasting tests and medical supplies on a community that refuses to follow the rules?” one Facebook commentator wrote.

The ADL’s report also finds posts calling on law enforcement officials to use water hoses and tear gas to stop Orthodox community members from gathering, or comments asking for the National Guard to contain Orthodox Jews. 

Other cited comments blame Orthodox Jews for taking away the rest of the community’s freedoms and civil liberties and that as a result, people should “form our own millitia to protect our own community from them...”

Residents of Williamsburg, New York, gather to observe a funeral for Rabbi Chaim Mertz, a Hasidic Orthodox leader whose death was reportedly tied to the new coronavirus, April 28, 2020.
Residents of Williamsburg, New York, gather to observe a funeral for Rabbi Chaim Mertz, a Hasidic Orthodox leader whose death was reportedly tied to the new coronavirus, April 28, 2020.Credit: Todd Maisel,AP

A sixth pattern observed are “comparisons of religious leaders to Adolf Hitler and positive affirmations about the Jewish community being “wiped off the planet.”, the ADL said. 

Finally, the ADL also categorized posts stereotyping Orthodox Jews saying they are uneducated, calling them a “cult” or describing their neighborhoods as “slum” where the virus can spread easily.  

The ADL said it is particularly concerned that the hate-filled rhetoric has appeared on “mainstream community Facebook groups that purport to discuss public policy issues, but instead quickly morph into forums that enable Jew hatred, both veiled and overt.”

“At a time where strong and moral leadership is imperative, we call on all elected officials to use their platforms to expressly distance themselves from hatred, and to stand up against and condemn antisemitism,” the ADL wrote in a statement. “We must not allow the COVID-19 crisis to be used as an excuse to fuel antisemitism and hate."