On Social Media, Haredi and Orthodox Jewish Communities are Scapegoated and Blamed for COVID-19

  • April 29, 2020
orthodox jews haredi

Photo credit: Mendy Hechtman/Flash90

Over the past several months, ADL has seen a significant increase in antisemitic social media posts and commentary targeting the Haredi[1] and Orthodox Jewish communities in New York and New Jersey, especially in relation to COVID-19.  In particular, these posts have blamed the Orthodox community for the spread of the virus, suggested that Orthodox and Haredi Jews should be denied medical treatment if they get sick, called on law enforcement to use water hoses and tear gas to stop Haredi and Orthodox community members from gathering, and even indicated that the Orthodox Jewish community should be wiped off the planet once and for all.

Yet the truth is that the vast majority of Haredi and Orthodox communities are adhering to public health directives and social distancing regulations, with all synagogues closed and events curtailed.  While there certainly have been several isolated instances of non-compliance, these aberrations are not unique to the Haredi or Orthodox communities.  Nevertheless, and as too often is the case, the bad acts of a few have been widely attributed to an entire community – leading many to conclude that the Orthodox community as a whole is collectively failing to adhere to public health directives and is therefore responsible for recklessly or even intentionally attempting to spread COVID-19 – an untrue and alarming allegation reminiscent of age-old antisemitic tropes blaming Jews for spreading filth and plague.

Of particular concern to ADL is the fact that this 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.  Local elected and former elected officials have also participated in  conversations on these public online communities, notwithstanding this hateful content, and thus have provided implicit permission or even support for discussions that can veer into antisemitism.

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, especially when it appears on mainstream community social media pages.  We must not allow the COVID-19 crisis to be used as an excuse to fuel antisemitism and hate.

The Jewish people stand united against efforts to scapegoat or blame us. At ADL, we believe that an antisemitic attack on any group of Jews is an attack on all of us. It is unacceptable when elected officials, public figures, or social media users depict Orthodox people as aberrant and therefore fair game for this type of slander. As ADL seeks to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, we stand in solidarity with the Haredi and Orthodox Jewish communities in response to these antisemitic attacks.

ADL has identified seven categories of rhetoric being used by individuals online (primarily on Facebook) in the last two months, all of which are summarized below.

***

Generalized blame: Comments and posts blaming the entire Orthodox Jewish community for failing to adhere to social distancing and public health directives, and for spreading COVID-19 to non-religious individuals, based upon the isolated actions of a few; comments suggesting all Haredi communities all over the world act the same way.


antisemitic facebook

Separation: Comments suggesting that Haredi and Orthodox communities be forcibly separated, contained, isolated and sealed off from the rest of the community.


antisemitic facebook

Punishment / Neglect: Comments suggesting that Orthodox and Haredi Jews should be denied medical treatment, or should have to fend for themselves if they get sick; comments suggesting that if all rabbis die from the virus, then the community will start following the rules; comments suggesting that only children within the Haredi community be given medical treatment.


antisemitic facebook

Use of Force / Military Assistance: Posts calling on law enforcement officials to use water hoses and tear gas to stop Haredi and Orthodox community members from gathering; comments asking for the military or National Guard to come to contain the Haredi and Orthodox communities.


antisemitic facebook

Civil Liberties / Freedoms: Comments blaming Haredi and Orthodox communities for taking away the rest of the community’s freedoms and civil liberties because of a belief that they are not complying with public health directives and that as a result, the community should take matters into their own hands.


antisemitic facebook

Comments about Hitler and Decimation: Posts using disparaging language about the Orthodox community’s religious tenets, including comparisons of religious leaders to Adolf Hitler and positive affirmations about the Jewish community being “wiped off the planet.”


antisemitic facebook

Stereotyping: Post suggesting that members of the Haredi/Orthodox communities cannot read or write, live in cramped and unclean or illegal residences, are corrupt, don’t pay taxes, live off of welfare, and disregard the rule of law to get their way.


antisemitic facebook

 ***

ADL is deeply concerned that as this public health crisis continues, the escalation in hateful rhetoric against Haredi and Orthodox communities will continue online, leading to increasing tensions between the Orthodox Jewish and secular communities or between Jews and non-Jews even more broadly.  This is a pattern we have seen before.  Coming on the heels of several years of surging antisemitic violence, where extreme antisemitism online has had deadly consequences (including mass shootings of Jews at places of worship and lethal attacks targeting Orthodox communities in New York and New Jersey), we cannot allow this scourge to continue to plague our communities.


[1] Haredi is a somewhat imprecise term referring to various communities of theologically devout and culturally conservative Orthodox Jews, some of whom are Hasidic and some not. Often inaccurately referred to as "ultra-Orthodox" by mainstream media outlets, many Haredi Jews live in communities that seek to limit the influence of secular culture on their lifestyle.  The vast majority of Haredi and Orthodox rabbis have urged their communities to adhere to public health directives and social distancing regulations, and the communities are complying, with all synagogues and schools closed and events curtailed.

More from this Section