As the corona pandemic sweeps the world, another deadly virus—anti-Semitism—is on the rise. The lethal pathogen of Jew-hatred is an ancient plague, nourished throughout history by various blood libels that blame Jews for disease and various atrocities. So it is, in the age of corona that Jews are blamed for the spread of COVID-19. And in a somewhat recent development, evangelicals have also become targets of the same kind of false accusations that inspired the persecution of Jews for millennia.
A notable example of the centuries-old practice of accusing Jews of all kinds of heinous acts occurred in 1144, when Jews were blamed for the apparent murder of William of Norwich. William, a Christian, was allegedly killed as part of a ritual sacrifice during Passover. This false accusation was one of many libels; slanderous allegations that blame Jews for many things, including murder and plagues.
Early in the age of corona, anti-Semites began to verbalize the same kind of libels as those promoted during the Black Death of 1348-1351, which claimed the lives of more than 100 million people. Because Jews were held responsible for that plague, countless pogroms were carried out, and at least 510 Jewish communities were destroyed throughout Europe.
Today, history is repeating itself. Just as Jews were blamed for the Black Death centuries ago, Jews and the Jewish state are being blamed for COVID-19. Indeed, the enemies of Israel are using the current pandemic to justify their intent to destroy the Jewish state.
One glaring example of a contemporary blood libel is demonstrated through comments made by Turkish official Fatih Erbakan, head of the Refah Party, son of former prime minister Necmettin Erbakan and mentor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In a report published by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) on March 16, 2020, Erbakan is quoted as stating on March 6: “Though we do not have certain evidence, this virus serves Zionism’s goals of decreasing the number of people and preventing it from increasing, and important research expresses this.” It is worth noting that the Iranians have never produced any research to support this libelous accusation.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In a quote referenced in the same MEMRI report, Erbakan’s father, Necmettin Erbakan (former prime minister) said: “Zionism is a 5,000-year-old bacteria that has caused the suffering of people.”
Other examples of present-day libels are provided regularly by officials within the Iranian government; allegations that blame America and Israel for corona. By early March 2020, as the number of cases of COVID-19 spread in Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) developed propaganda that portrayed the virus as a conspiracy orchestrated by the United States. Gen. Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the IRGC, suggested the virus could be “an American biological invasion.”
Additional communications from the IRGC used the pandemic as an opportunity to vilify Israel, with claims that the virus is “a Zionist biological terrorist attack.” These false accusations are supported by the IRGC’s own “experts,” including Ali Karami, a professor at the IRGC-run Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences. On March 11, 2020, on Iranian state television, Karami described the coronavirus as a “biological ethnic weapon” created by the “American and Zionist regime” to target Iranian DNA. This slanderous propaganda from Turkey and Iran is just the newest rendition of blood libels leveled against the Jewish people throughout history—libels that now include America.
In the age of corona, American evangelicals have also become targets of the same kind of denigration directed towards Jews for centuries. A poignant example of the growing trend in America to vilify evangelical faith is demonstrated through an op-ed, in which an obviously anti-Christian writer demonstrates animosity towards evangelicals for blatant political reasons. In her hit piece, titled “The Religious Right’s Hostility to Science Is Crippling Our Coronavirus Response” and published on the Opinion page of The New York Times on March 27, 2020, Katherine Stewart presented an unsupported allegation that “Trump’s response to the pandemic has been haunted by the science denialism of his ultraconservative religious allies.”
In order to reinforce her politically motivated charge that Trump mishandled the coronavirus crisis, Stewart provided examples of three evangelical pastors to support her thesis that the problem is the “Christian nationalism” promoted by his science-repudiating supporters. In other words, according to Stewart, evangelicals are to blame for coronavirus because they support Trump, who in her opinion failed in his response to COVID-19.
However, the three pastors Stewart named do not represent the vast majority of evangelicals throughout the United States who have indeed followed the guidelines laid out by authorities to “flatten the curve.” In obvious demonstration of her bias and agenda, the writer does not acknowledge the cooperation of the majority and instead presents three exceptions as typical of “many of [Trump’s] evangelical allies.”
Stewart’s defamation of evangelicals makes use of generalizations, caricature, false accusations and the omission of contradictory evidence. These same tactics have been used historically until today to demonize and persecute Jews; now they are being used to disparage evangelical Christians.
In the age of corona, as evangelicals become targets of the same kind of blood libels that inspired persecution of Jews for millennia, it is crucial that they take action against the alarming rise in anti-Semitism and the persecution of Christians worldwide. It is also critical that Jews and evangelicals stand together as never before, united in recognition of our common values and our imperative to support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
Trisha Miller is a senior research analyst at CAMERA who monitors Christian organizations and media activity related to the Arab-Israeli conflict.