A small but significant segment of the criticism leveled at Israel in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has veered into extremism and antisemitism, especially accusations that Israel or Zionists schemed to create and spread the coronavirus or are taking advantage of the pandemic for personal gain. Additional tropes equate Zionism or Israel with the virus or contend that Israelis or Zionists deserve to be infected with or die from it.
Those responsible for these assertions include left-wing anti-Israel organizations and far right antisemites. While these groups are categorically different, their messaging on this topic has, at times, taken on a similar tone. The number of examples included from each ideological orientation is not intended to reflect the relative frequency of their occurrence. Of course, it is often impossible to know the ideological orientation of anonymous posters.
Israel and Zionists created or are intentionally spreading the virus
- Some antisemites and conspiracy theorists allege that Israel created the coronavirus as a weapon to further its foreign policy goals. An article published March 19, 2020, on the antisemitic website Veterans Today accuses Israel of creating the virus and spreading it as “an act of bioterrorism on a grand scale,” and claims that Israel unleashed the virus on Italy as punishment for its improving ties with China. On March 5, antisemite and former CIA employee Philip Giraldi suggested in an article published in the antisemitic and conspiratorial news website The Unz Review that Israel created the coronavirus as “a biological weapon” for use against arch-rival Iran.
- On March 12, infamous white supremacist, antisemite and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke wondered in a tweet if President Trump had been infected by the coronavirus and whether Israel and the “Global Zionist elite” were behind it.
- In this cartoon, which originally appeared in March 2020 on the anti-Israel news website Mondoweiss, and which has since been widely shared on Twitter and Facebook, a Palestinian woman is depicted as being forced to remain exposed to the coronavirus while an Israeli soldier points a gun at her. The Twitter user who shared it in the example below wrote that Israel and the virus are working together against “native Palestinians.” The post also insinuates that Israelis aren’t “natives,” and are therefore interlopers.
- In a video posted on Youtube on February 11, antisemitic French comedian Dieudonne claimed the coronavirus “could have been released by the American-Zionist axis say some ... That fits with the wretched and vulgar mentality of the U.S., or even worse, Israel. Two countries without any morality."
- A document published in early May by the Taliban’s Pakistani arm claimed that the Jews are behind the virus, and it is part of their goal of world domination. The document states that "since it is a claim of the Jews that they are from among the descendants of Prophet Sulaiman [Solomon] and Prophet Sulaiman ruled over the entire world, therefore the right to a global governance belongs to the Jews only."
- On Aporrea.org, a self-proclaimed left-wing Venezuelan news site with a record of promoting antisemitic conspiracies, Edwin Martinez Espinoza claimed on May 4th that the recent alleged coup attempt in Venezuela was a Zionist plot related to Covid-19: “As the mercenary media in the service of imperialism and Zionism have made us believe, in the midst of a global emergency for the coronavirus pandemic whose impact has paralyzed industry … now there is a new offensive to advance the superior strength of armed fascist groups [in Venezuela]…It’s a public fact that the coup is a “business” of the White House who serves the owners of the world economic power of Zionism and Imperialism.”
- Iranian-backed Spanish language HispanTV published an article on March 8th claiming the US and Israel are using coronavirus to wage biological warfare against Iran: "United against a Nuclear Iran is just one of the many Israeli pressure groups that control US foreign policy…the Zionist lobby… The group is now trying to spread the coronavirus in Iran, a strain suspected to be an American-Israeli creation, because otherwise how could an Israeli pharmaceutical company claim to have a vaccine against the coronavirus in less than two weeks, when all the scientists said that it would take at least a year of intense work to get a vaccine.”
Taking advantage of the pandemic for personal gain
- Other propagandists espouse traditional anti-Israel or antisemitic rhetoric, claiming that Israelis have undue influence or control over the U.S. government and are benefitting from the pandemic. On April 13, the antisemitic website Christians for Truth posted a short article, “99% Of Israeli Start-Up Companies Eligible For Tens Of Millions In COVID-19 U.S. Bailout Grants,” which alleges that a “loophole...was intentionally put in the bailout agreement so that Israeli companies could take advantage of it.”
The author further alleges that Israeli start-ups “will get this free money while actual American small business [sic] will not” because they “have insider help applying early.” A column with similar messaging was published on April 14 on the antisemitic and conspiratorial news websites InformationLiberation and Blacklisted News. The antisemitic image below was published alongside the article in Christians for Truth.
- On April 10, 2020, Abbas Hamideh, co-founder of the anti-Israel organization Al-Awda, which advocates for Palestinian refugees, posted a tweet implying that the shortcomings in the U.S. government’s coronavirus response can be blamed in significant part on Zionist Jews:
- On March 30, Hamideh posted a tweet that played into antisemitic tropes about Jewish greed and dual loyalty. Calling them “illegal squatters on Occupied Palestine,” Hamideh claimed Israelis would “receive two checks for emergency aid. One is coming directly to their homes in Brooklyn, New York and the other one from the Zionist occupation government that is also coming from our American tax dollars.”
- A March 23, 2020 article on white supremacist website alt-right.com suggests that disgraced film mogul and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein would use his positive coronavirus test “to fake his own death so he can relocate to Israel and live out his life in the criminal Jewish state.”
Israel and Zionism as the Virus
- Some posters contend that Israel or Zionism itself inherently constitute a virus or a public health hazard. In March 2020, a meme shared on Facebook proclaimed Zionism “the deadliest virus on Earth.”
- On March 27, 2020, anti-Israel activist and author Susan Abulhawa, who has appeared as a speaker at events for the vociferously anti-Israel magazine Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, tweeted that “Israel is a pathogen, a 72 year old coronavirus epidemic for Palestinians.”
- On March 19, 2020, the international anti-Israel organization Samidoun, which focuses on advocating for Palestinian prisoners, posted a tweet calling Zionism “a deep threat to public health.”
- In a May 12th op-ed published in the Palestinian Federation of Chile website, Pablo Jofre Leal attacked pro-Israel members of the Chilean parliament, writing that while Covid affects people’s respiratory system, Zionism affects their moral compass, adding, “The Chilean-Israeli Parliamentary group through its support of the Zionist entity is an accomplice of a terrorist regime and a violator of International law.”
Israelis or Zionists deserve to be hurt
In some cases, social media users have used the coronavirus to call for indiscriminate violence against Zionists and Israelis.
- On March 30, 2020, in response to reports of abuses allegedly perpetrated by Israeli forces in East Jerusalem, a Facebook user wished for the coronavirus to “annihilate” Zionists, writing “Zionist motherfuckers are worse than corona virus [sic]. Oh God…destroy and annihilate them by infecting corona virus.”
- On March 25, 2020, a Facebook user shared the following meme, which suggests that Zionists should be thrown into a volcano “to appease the virus.”
- Some have used religious “justifications” to explain why Israelis or Zionists should be infected with the coronavirus. On March 25, 2020, Rick Wiles, the antisemitic and conspiracy theorist host of the “TruNews” internet show, warned Israel that the coronavirus was spreading in Israeli synagogues because God is punishing Jews for opposing Jesus Christ. And on March 10, 2020, a Twitter user suggested the coronavirus was a sign from God that Zionism is a virus (and that Zionists deserve to be infected).
- In one case, an anti-Israel activist’s social media post resulted in an official condemnation from her alma mater. In a now-deleted March 20 tweet responding to a report on the first coronavirus death in Israel, former New York University Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) leader Leen Dweik tweeted, “anyway should I paint my nails red or green today.” In its statement, New York University called Dweik’s tweet “shameful and callous” and “at odds with our campus’ values.”