Forward: Time to Work Together to Prevent an Upsurge of Anti-Semitism

Jun 15, 2020

This op-ed was originally published by Forward, on June 15, 2020

By USCIRF Vice Chair Gayle Manchin, USCIRF Commissioner Gary Bauer, and Senator James Lankford


While the United States was celebrating American Jewish Heritage Month in May, the global Jewish community was experiencing a further increase in anti-Semitic incidents, which cannot continue.

As the world reeled from the COVID-19 global pandemic in March, the Iranian Ministry of Health decided to hold a cartoon contest entitled “We Defeat Coronavirus,” garnering more than 2,000 submissions. Coming from Iran—a government that Elan Carr, the US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, called the world’s chief trafficker in anti-Semitism—contestants unsurprisingly submitted grotesque anti-Semitic images. One drawing was of three, hook-nosed Israeli doctors holding a beaker of COVID-19, insinuating that Israel invented the novel coronavirus. Sticking to that absurd accusation, the state-aligned Press TV claimed that “Zionist elements” created the deadly disease to use against Iran. Indeed Iran has a history of anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist propaganda, especially involving the Holocaust.

And Iran is not the only country disseminating this preposterous misinformation and spreading anti-Semitic messages.

From the Middle East to Europe, to Australia, to the Americas, Jews are blamed for starting the COVID-19 crisis and perpetuating its spread as a means of achieving a number of alleged goals. Germany’s top minister for combatting anti-Semitism says that Jews and Israel are the main targets for Internet hate speech related to COVID-19. The Anti-Defamation Commission in Australia detailed the rise of conspiracy theories on Australian sites and social media pages. Public figures in Turkey have asserted that Jews engineered the novel coronavirus to acquire world domination. A Jordanian journalist said the virus is a consequence of Jews’ hatred for the entire world. A cartoon circulating on French social media shows Agnes Buzyn, France’s Jewish former health minister, pouring a vial of coronavirus in a well.

Anti-Semitism has steadily grown in severity over the past few years, and the ever increasing challenge of confronting anti-Semitism is why our respective bodies—the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combatting Anti-Semitism—both work to move the issue of combatting anti-Semitism to the forefront of our country’s foreign policy.

USCIRF’s 2020 Annual Report and January 2020 hearing document increases in anti-Semitic incidents throughout 2019, including discrimination, defamation, Holocaust denial, hate speech on the Internet, and vandalism of synagogues, cemeteries, and other community institutions. As highlighted in the Annual Report, these attacks are worldwide, not just isolated to nations that USCIRF recommends for “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) designation or placement on Special Watch List (SWL), such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Anti-Semitism is a growing trend that must be stopped in countries including Argentina, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Sweden.

The US Senate Task Force is committed to engaging with stakeholders to educate and empower communities in the US by calling out hate with one voice, supporting legislation that tackles the issue head-on, and promoting Holocaust education. To advance the Commission’s similar goals, USCIRF has provided recommendations on ways the US government can work to combat anti-Semitism, including: (1) insisting that fighting anti-Semitism be a top priority of the International Religious Freedom Alliance; (2) recommending the creation of positions similar to the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in governments around the world and at the United Nations; and (3) providing technical support to foreign law enforcement officials to update and standardize hate-crime reporting procedures.

Our bipartisan entities are committed to this issue because fighting hate is a non-partisan priority. Ideological differences do not preclude us from working together to fight for universal values and basic human dignity. When we see anti-Semitism or hate anywhere, every one must call it out and do their part to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism.

As we paid tribute throughout the month of May to the generations of Jewish Americans who have made remarkable and invaluable contributions to American society, we must also turn to our diplomatic allies and other governments to actively improve the situation for their Jewish communities who live in fear for their own safety.