EU Study Finds Massive Rise in Online Antisemitism During COVID Pandemic

'Most dominant antisemitic narratives were conspiracy theories about Jews ruling international financial, political and media institutions,' says report

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People take part in a rally in solidarity with Israel and against antisemitism, in Berlin, Germany, in May.
People take part in a rally in solidarity with Israel and against antisemitism, in Berlin, Germany, in May.Credit: CHRISTIAN MANG/ REUTERS

Online antisemitism grew significantly during the pandemic, with COVID-19 ushering in “a new wave of antisemitic conspiracy theories and hate in Europe,” the European Commission declared in a new report issued last week.

According to the report, which was based on research by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) in London and covered a period between January 2020 and March 2021, anti-Jewish motifs proliferated on French and German language posts on Facebook, Twitter and Telegram, with researchers identifying hundreds of social media accounts and channels “spreading antisemitic messages related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“There was a considerable growth in the use of antisemitic keywords during the pandemic,” the European Commission stated, citing an “even-fold increase in antisemitic posting” on French-language accounts and a thirteen-fold increase on German accounts since the beginning of the worldwide health crisis.

According to the report, the “most dominant antisemitic narratives were conspiracy theories about Jews ruling international financial, political and media institutions, which comprised 89% of German antisemitic content and 55% of French.”

While “a small number of the noisiest accounts create an outsized share of antisemitic content,” the researchers found that this vocal minority garnered “considerable audience engagement with antisemitic content across platforms,” with French antisemitic content receiving “over half a million” likes, comments and shares in 2020 and 2021.

“The COVID-19 crisis has only served to exacerbate a worrying trend in terms of online antisemitism,” the EC said in a statement, citing a 2018 report by the European Union Fundamental Rights agency which found that eight in ten respondents had encountered antisemitic abuse online.

According to the EC, the most prolific German channels sharing antisemitic content were associated with the American QAnon conspiracy theory, which believes that the world is ruled by a secret, Satanist cabal funded by George Soros and the Rothschilds.

Prominent QAnon supporters, such as US Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, have drawn Jewish ire by comparing mask mandates and coronavirus vaccinations to the Holocaust.

Last month, German federal antisemitism commissioner Felix Klein called for a national ban on yellow stars at protests in response to the widespread use of the symbol of Jewish persecution at anti-lockdown protests across the country.

Munich banned the use of yellow stars, which the Nazis compelled Jews to wear during the Holocaust, last June after Jewish groups complained. These stars often bore the slogans “not vaccinated” or “vaccination will set you free,” a play on the ironic slogan displayed in several Nazi concentration camps, such as Auschwitz.

In one high-profile incident last November, a German woman protesting coronavirus restrictions likened herself to Sophie Scholl, a resistance fighter executed for her outspoken opposition to the Nazi regime, drawing condemnations from senior government officials and the local Jewish community.

Antisemitic conspiracy theories proposing Jewish responsibility for the coronavirus have gained traction among Germany’s fringe, and the country recently reported the highest number of antisemitic crimes since 2001.

The number of politically motivated crimes rose sharply in Germany last year, including a 15% rise in antisemitic offenses, with the number of antisemitic crimes reported to police across the country rising from 2,032 to 2,351. The vast majority — 85 percent — fell into the categories of incitement to hate, insults and propaganda, including Holocaust denial and glorification of Nazi ideology.

Last April, the Anti-Defamation League reported that as the pandemic spread, there had “been a surge in messaging that Jews and/or Israel manufactured or spread the coronavirus to advance their global control.”

However, while the ADL reported a 3 percent rise in online antisemitism in a report released this March, it stated that the group which experienced the largest increase in online harassment in the United States during the pandemic was Asian-Americans, “with 17 percent having experienced sexual harassment, stalking, physical threats, swatting, doxing or sustained harassment this year compared to 11 percent last year.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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