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Anti-Semitism and the coronavirus

By Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser
web posted May 4, 2020

Since the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, we are witness to anti-Semitic expressions that denote the Jews, in general, and Israel, specifically, as those who have developed the virus and are responsible for its propagation, in order to tighten their control of the world, and to utilize their resources to harm the populations that resist them, above all, the Palestinians.

Along with smears by known anti-Semites in Turkey, in Iran, and in the West, the anti-Israel BDS community and the Palestinian establishment have been leveraging the coronavirus to defame Israel. BDS activists are holding an unrelenting succession of Zoom webinars that are meant to present the vile character of Israel, and are distributing caricatures of the propagation of the virus by Israel, or presenting Israel itself as an even more terrible “virus” than Covid-19.

Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh accused IDF soldiers of spitting on Palestinian cars in order to spread the virus, and noted that “without a doubt Israel wants its economy to keep running at the expense of the health of the Palestinians.” PA spokespersons blamed Israel for trying to contaminate Palestinians with the virus by way of Palestinian workers employed in Israel. They also claim that the “occupation” prevents the Palestinians from supplying themselves with the necessities to deal with the pandemic. The Palestinians further warn that Israel will be responsible for any disaster that is caused if the virus spreads in Gaza, the PA territories, and east Jerusalem. They claimed that Israel infects Palestinian prisoners with the virus, and prevents adequate treatment for Israeli Arabs.

The facts are, of course, unimportant to them. In practice, Israel cooperates with the Palestinians in treating the coronavirus, transfers large amounts of medical equipment for their use, and advises medical teams in Gaza and the West Bank on how to treat the disease. Israel has further encouraged international medical aid to the Palestinians, gave a loan to the PA, and has delayed the execution of the law that offsets money used to pay salaries to terrorists. Israel also follows the same medical treatment policy among all sectors of its population including the Israeli Arab population.

Israel’s cooperation with the Palestinians has been praised by the international community, but this does not interest those who hate Israel and the Jews. They have their own narrative.

The most visible figure in the BDS machine is Omar Barghouti, who said in a Zoom webinar that the Palestinians should continue their muqawama – that is, their struggle, against Israel and all its components – even during the period of the coronavirus, in parallel with the struggle against the virus.  Yet, he explains that if Israel discovers a vaccine for the coronavirus, it would be permissible for those who struggle against Israel to use it. It is worth noting that Barghouti is a graduate of Tel Aviv University, which he calls to boycott within the framework of the academic boycott against Israel. At least he is consistent in his cynicism.

What stands behind the fervor of those who hate us today is, of course, not new. It has characterized many generations of anti-Semites, especially whenever the world must deal with adversity and fear. Firstly, it seems that they identify the virus as an opportunity to promote their familiar messages regarding the awful character of the Jews, in order to hurt them and mainly to deepen Israel’s negative image for the audiences to whom they are directing their messages. These include the Palestinian public, the Islamic world, and Western extremists – either on the far right or the progressive left – that have turned hatred of Israel into a central issue to which they have become committed since the fall of the Soviet Union and the bankruptcy of communism.

They certainly try to convince liberal Westerners to adopt their approach, though their success in the coronavirus context should have been limited and made them look absurd. Their achievements so far include growing anti-Israel attitudes and anti-Semitism in the British Labour party, as well as circles in the Democratic party in the U.S. which embraced Senator Bernie Sanders and his entourage of Israel haters. So far, it seems that liberals have refrained from condemning them and some even adopt their agenda. For example, the International Crisis Group, a liberal think tank headed by Rob Malley, who served as head of the Middle East desk in the National Security Council under President Obama, issued a paper about Gaza and the coronavirus which adopted some of the Israel-haters’ false claims and demands, which were also supported by some Democratic members of Congress.

Secondly, the Israel-haters see this as an appropriate time to harness events to advance their permanent policy aims, such as the removal of the Israeli security blockade on Gaza and the release of imprisoned terrorists. They also use anti-Semitic tropes as a tool to prevent internal criticism of their corruption, their lack of concern for a proper medical system for their citizens, and their decision to use their resources to promote terror instead.

But more than the dissemination of vilifications, anti-Semitism reflects the beliefs of those who stand behind these slanders that their accusations are real, and their target audiences tend to believe these fabrications. Anti-Semitic brainwashing throughout history has brought a large public to believe in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the blood libels, and the responsibility of Jews for plagues and for all the other troubles in the world.

Hitler, Stalin, and the anti-Semites of our times have made cynical political usage of Jew-hatred, but believed that Jews control the world, and specifically its economics. They believe that Jews are condescending, greedy, sly, xenophobic, plot against those who surround them, and are warmongers. The Palestinian leadership has regularly repeated these claims and they deal in continual incitement of the Palestinian public and forced brainwashing in order to advance the assimilation of these perceptions about Jews in the public’s thought and belief and turn them into acceptable diplomatic rhetoric.

The Hamas charter contains these claims, and PA President Mahmoud Abbas repeats them in the lessons of historical narrative he presents at Palestinian conferences. He even noted them in writing, in his book about cooperation between Zionists and Nazis (based on his doctoral dissertation), and in his book Zionism – Beginning and End, that presents what he calls the (Ashkenazi) Zionist fraud. Whatever the theme, Prime Minister Shtayyeh, BDS activists, and Hamas leaders all repeat the same mantras.

Especially after commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, the new attempt to disseminate Israel-hatred cannot be taken lightly. While continuing cooperation with the Palestinians, we must denounce the brainwashing, the libels, and their disseminators. And we must demand from the international community to condemn them, loud and clear, which has not yet happened. Similarly, we should urge the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which clarifies which manifestations of hatred of the State of Israel are to be considered anti-Semitic. ESR

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center. He was formerly Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence.

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