Love and hatred in the days of COVID-19

Those who are predisposed to paranoia seek a scapegoat. And the time-proven victims have been the Jews.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends the Great Conference of Basij members at Azadi stadium in Tehran, Oct. 4, 2018. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends the Great Conference of Basij members at Azadi stadium in Tehran, Oct. 4, 2018. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a think tank that specializes in the Middle East. She is the author of Saudi Arabia and the Global Terrorist Network (2011).  

If you were to take a wider perspective on this current pandemic, you would immediately realize that the earth is like one giant petri dish facing a universal contagion, where we are all in this together. In this dish, both the best and the worst microbes are virulently reproducing.

Among the best qualities: a renewal of looking inward; a quest for understanding and for spirituality; time to reach out to family and friends; compassion for the most vulnerable; an awareness of the fragility of life, and that our time here is limited, for all of us; and a renewed awareness of how we are inextricably linked in a chain that effects one another.

Unfortunately, we also see that there many who are predisposed to hatred and paranoia, and who seek a scapegoat. And the time-proven victims have been the Jews.

In Iran, one of the hardest-hit countries in the world with 1,685 fatalities and 21,638 diagnosed cases, as of today, the regime was quick to resort to age-old stereotypes against both the United States and Jews.

When the disease first surfaced in Iran in early February, the regime denied that it was presenting a problem. Then, according to renowned scholar and expert on Iran Harold Rhode, the regime told those who had come down with it not to self-quarantine, but to engage in what they referred to as “Islamic medicine” (i.e., reading the Koran and rubbing oneself with a sticky, viscous ointment that has  absolutely no known anti-viral components).

As many more Iranians began to come down with the virus, the blame has shifted to the United States and U.S.-led sanctions against the regime. As of Sunday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised press conference: “Several times Americans have offered to help us fight the pandemic. That is strange, because you face shortages in America. Also, you are accused of creating this virus. I do not know whether it is true. But when there is such an allegation, can a wise man trust and accept your help offer? You could be giving medicines to Iran that spread the virus or cause it to remain permanently.”

Of course, that convenient scapegoat; the Jews were to blame. On March 5, Iranian Press TV claimed to reference an “academic source” that said “Zionists were the driving force behind the coronavirus, and that they had developed a deadlier strain against Iran.”

In Turkey, classic anti-Semitic calumnies abound. On a pro-government television station, an “expert” declared that “whoever spreads the virus, will find the cure. Israel already made a statement that they found a vaccine.” The anchorman followed up: “They found the vaccination … whoever is the source [of the vaccine], they and their accomplices spread the virus, you say, right?” The “expert” confirms: “Absolutely! Israel has already said that in a matter of time, they will make the vaccination available commercially.”

This sort of anti-Semitism is not just found in the ruling AK Party. On March 6, Fatih Erbakan, head of Refah Party, was reported to have said in a speech: “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. Erbakan said: ‘Zionism is a 5,000-year-old bacteria that has caused the suffering of people.’ ”

Additionally, there is a YouTube video making the rounds showing a Turkish van driver linking all epidemics—from AIDS to the Ebola virus—to pharmaceutical companies.  The van driver asks, rhetorically, “And who owns the pharmaceutical companies? The Jews.”

It should be said, however, that Turkey and Iran are both divided societies with robust, secular populations that have been suffocated by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the reigning Iranian mullahs. Respectively, there are voices of enlightenment that one doesn’t often hear within both nations, in addition to a heroic dissident population—many of which have been silenced by their regimes or are languishing in prisons.

It is important that we do not forget these voices during this pandemic. If we did, we would be guilty of the same sort of paranoia and suspicion of which we accuse the anti-Semites.

But one needn’t travel to the Middle East to find the spread of the anti-Semitic contagion. The Telegram is an international social-networking app that has more than 200 million subscribers. It’s part of the dark web where radical Islamists and white supremacists have found common ground in their cause of Jew-hatred.

A horrifying image posted on The Telegram on March 15 depicts the coronavirus as a Trojan horse created by globalist Jews, who appear to be controlling the world. The Jew appears with a stereotypically hooked nose and menacing smile.

Paul Nehlen, a self-proclaimed anti-Semite and white supremacist who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2016 and 2018, posted a message on The Telegram, saying: “Remember when your country was on the fast track with your new infrastructure and world domination? Wonder if you also remember remarking, smugly, that the West, America, in particular, was controlled by Jews, here, and in Israel? Well, according to our calculations, it sure looks like Israel, has unleashed a bioweapon meant to teach you that they control your destiny as well. You gonna let those jealous, vindictive Jews get away with it?”

Furthermore, on Thursday, the FBI sent out an alert, explaining that white-extremist groups have been encouraging followers, if stricken with coronavirus, to spread bodily fluids to policemen and Jews, and to spread the disease, “any place they may be congregated, to include markets, political offices, businesses and places of worship.”

On the left, groups such as the anti-Israel IfNotNow have posted a tweet, saying: “Israel needs to #lifttheblockade and help deliver medical care to Gaza.” An absurdity, considering that Egypt has closed off Gaza, and that the Palestinians and Israelis have been cooperating against the spread of the disease. One that can be answered by Umm Forat, a far-left-wing Jew married to a Palestinian living in Ramallah, who writes that “the Israeli authorities genuinely want to prevent the virus from spreading among Palestinians, too.”

Let’s pray that the forces of goodness and compassion overcome those of paranoia and hatred, and we realize that we are all united against the common enemy: COVID-19.

Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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