It would be surprising if Palestinian leaders had not seized upon the coronavirus crisis to accuse Israel of fanciful acts against them. That is par for the course.
More surprising is a report by Tel Aviv University which shows that the health crisis is stirring antisemitism around the world, drawing on centuries-old libels that Jews spread infection.
The findings, which were published in the annual report on antisemitism worldwide by the Kantor Centre at Tel Aviv University, showed that even before the pandemic hit, there was an 18% rise in antisemitic incidents in 2019 over the previous year.
This trend has been exacerbated by the global coronavirus outbreak. In the first few months of 2020, far-right politicians in the United States and Europe, as well as ultra-conservative pastors, seized on the health crisis and its resulting economic hardship to foster hatred against Jews, the researchers said.
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant rise in accusations that Jews, as individuals and as a collective, are behind the spread of the virus or are directly profiting from it,” said Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress. “The language and imagery used clearly identifies a revival of the mediaeval ‘blood libels’ when Jews were accused of spreading disease, poisoning wells or controlling economies.”
He called on world leaders to address the problem of growing extremism “already at our door”.
Meanwhile, severe and violent incidents against Jews rose to 456 worldwide in 2019, from 387 in 2018, and seven Jews were killed in antisemitic attacks last year, the report found. In 2019, Britain suffered 122 major violent antisemitic incidents, followed by 111 in the United States and 41 in France and Germany.
Kantor said there had been a consistent rise in antisemitism over the past few years, especially online, but also in mainstream society, politics and media. The increased use of social media during the health crisis, he added, could facilitate the spread of conspiracy theories, “providing simplistic answers for the growing anxiety among the general public.”
Outrageous as they are, the global conspiracy theories about the mendacity of Jews do not match those of Palestinian officials, including Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh and his spokesman, Ibrahim Milhem. They accused Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers of spitting in public places – particularly on the door-handles of Palestinian cars – as a means of infecting Palestinians with the deadly virus.
A PA spokesman accused Israel of “racist and inhumane” behaviour, and articles in official PA publications assert that Israel is deliberately spreading the infection and trying to contaminate Palestinian prisoners, using the coronavirus as a biological weapon.
Milhem came out with the latest libel against Israel. He told reporters that “the settlements are incubators for the [coronavirus] epidemic, and also the workplaces in Israel – hotels, buses, petrol stations, and direct mutual contact with Israelis. Israel is having trouble because Israelis are not observing the preventative measures because they love money and want to continue to turn the wheels of production.”
Osama Qawassmeh, a spokesman for the Palestinian ruling Fatah faction added: “Our people are fighting two epidemics: coronavirus and Israeli colonialism.”
The fabrication about Israel deliberately infecting Palestinians with the virus comes at a time of close cooperation, not only between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, but also with Hamas in Gaza, where Israeli medical staff are training their Palestinian counterparts in how to treat victims of the virus.
Meanwhile, Israel has continued to supply essential aid to the people of Gaza, including electricity and water. It facilitates unhindered all international aid deliveries into the Gaza Strip, including testing equipment, protective garments, disinfectant, medical stocks and other humanitarian supplies.
In the West Bank, Israeli and PA health departments meet regularly to coordinate action and share vital information. Troops from the IDF’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories have been organising joint training for medical teams. At the same time, Israel provides test kits, laboratory supplies, medicines and personal protective equipment for Palestinian health workers.
In April, Israeli state-owned TV channel Kan reported that Israeli teams have trained doctors, nurses and other medical workers in Gaza on treating COVID-19. The television report said a team from Sheba Medical Centre in Ramat Gan, Israel, held a training course for about 20 medical workers from Gaza at the Erez crossing. According to the report, another group of doctors and nurses was later allowed to leave the Gaza Strip for training at the Barzilai Medical Centre in Ashkelon, southern Israel.
But such acts of goodwill are neutralised by the spreading of baseless antisemitism that fuels Palestinian hatred and incites the next spasm of bloody violence.
The international community no doubt understands – and indulges – this nonsense in order to appease the Palestinian rhetoricians. But the danger in such inaction is that Palestinians believe Israel is indeed responsible for the coronavirus “offensive” against them.