Anyone who tracks world-wide anti-Semitism understands that it is a disease that manifests itself through a broad range of symptoms—left-wing anti-Semitism, Islamist extremist anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism to name a few. However, this past month in the United States, a form of right-wing anti-Semitism, sometimes directly associated with white nationalists and white supremacists, took center stage. Meanwhile, halfway across the world Iran and its Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, were hard at work propagating other forms of Jew-hatred.
Until Memorial Day, when George Floyd was killed in police custody, most of the monthly anti-Semitic incidents were associated with COVID-19. As anti-lockdown protestors converged on state capitals, avowed white nationalists in the crowds were only too happy to pin blame on the Jews with some wielding signs with offensive Holocaust references. In Columbus, Ohio in late April, two protesters, one an Aryan Brotherhood member, held up a sign that featured a rat with a big nose, a kippah and a Star of David. The sign read “The Real Plague.” A month later, the same man was being investigated by police after it was reported that he walked into a store near Kent State with a machete and hatchet and inquired about where he could find local Jews to kill. At anti-lockdown rallies in Springfield, Illinois, right-wing protestors brandished signs associating Jewish Governor, J.B. Pritzker, with Hitler as well as signs that recycled the slogan from the entrance to Auschwitz—“Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work will Make your Free.” The Jewish Health Director of Ohio, Dr. Amy Acton, who along with Governor DeWine was the face of Ohio’s stay at home orders, was called out as a “Globalist”—a classic anti-Semitic dog-whistle phrase for Jews.
Offensive Nazi imagery was also deployed to criticize public officials who were not Jewish. In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Witmer was confronted with signs featuring “Heil Whitmer” and swastikas. Pennsylvania Governor Wolfe’s refusal to release some pandemic data prompted a state representative to compare the Governor’s policies to those of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Another state representative, this time from Alaska, compared pandemic policies to Nazi rule and also proclaimed that Hitler was not a white supremacist but just someone who feared the Jewish nation.
This spring, face masks became a symbol of ideological affiliation. Some racists and anti-Semites advertised their aversion towards masks by showing up at grocery stores with a KKK hood and a swastika mask.
In the Montana communities of Butte, Billings and Livingston, flyers headlined “With Jews You Lose” were left on cars and outside homes. The flyers took advantage of pandemic fears to stoke anger over supposed Jewish manipulation of finance and control of government.
A candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Delaware, Lauren Witzke, hired a political operative, Michael Siske, as her campaign manager. Siske is a self-proclaimed monarchist and an anti-Semite who expressed his support for getting Jews to voluntarily leave the United States. Witzke herself has voiced for the anti-Semitic tinged QAnon Conspiracy.
Finally, a month ago President Trump issued a proclamation for Jewish American Heritage Month, in which he strongly condemned hatred and vowed to vigorously confront anti-Semitic discrimination and violence. Three weeks later, the President visited a Ford plant where he lauded the company’s founder, Henry Ford, as someone with “good bloodlines.” Henry Ford was one of the most influential anti-Semites in American history and a proponent of eugenics, an early 20th-century movement concerned with improving racial stock used by Nazis and some Americans as a method of classifying Jews as racially inferior.
While white supremacists openly spewed anti-Semitic hate in America, in Iran a regime that faced multiple crises doubled down on vile anti-Zionist and anti-Israel rhetoric. A newspaper which serves as the Supreme Leader’s propaganda organ reacted to Germany’s ban of Hezbollah by accusing Berlin of being effectively “in rent for the Zionists.” The same paper also argued that the Hezbollah ban was a product of Germany’s fear of “child-killing” Israel. Another Iranian news outlet spoke of a “German-Zionist cabal” that instructs the German government on “how to behave.”
Khamenei’s office also released a pro-Palestinian poster that depicted the Temple Mount with protesters holding Hezbollah and Palestinian flags and included the phrase “The Final Solution.” Just for good measure, during this past month, the Supreme Leader also denounced Israel as a “tumor” to be removed.
Earlier in the year Iranian militants associated with the Islamic Republic threatened to destroy the most important Jewish Heritage site in the country, the Tomb of Esther and Mordecai, and replace it with a Palestinian consulate. In May the Tomb was damaged in an arson attack.
I believe there are two important, but seemingly contradictory, takeaways from this laundry list of anti-Semitic incidents from May of 2020. First, we are experiencing a resurgence of extreme right anti-Semitic rhetoric in the United States. Second, don’t let anyone tell you that the danger from anti-Semitism in the United States (or most other countries) comes largely from the racist, xenophobic or white supremacist right. This past month the right-wing version of anti-Semitism was most ubiquitous. Next month it may very well be another manifestation of anti-Semitism that dominates the headlines. This disease shapeshifts over time and place, maximizing the damage it can inflict.