“On April 29, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio claimed “the Jewish community” is disobeying social distancing orders enforced during the coronavirus lockdown, condemning a crowded Jewish funeral, in a Satmar Hasidic community of Williamsburg, in a tweet many have since derided as anti-Semitic.
De Blasio’s tweet is the latest chapter of a persistent mainstream narrative that disproportionately focuses on Haredi Jews as carriers of disease, uniquely responsible, due to presumed cultural deficiencies, for recklessly spreading COVID-19 to the broader public.
Select instances of noncompliance in Haredi communities, while certainly real, are given outsized attention in news media and internet discourse, creating a sensationalist public discourse that falsely suggests that Haredim, as a homogenous bloc, refuse to practice social distancing.
For Haredim in the NYC region, this troubling discourse isn’t new. Long before the COVID crisis, Haredi communities in Brooklyn and Long Island, and across the Hudson Valley and Ocean County suburbs, have faced escalating anti-Semitic rhetoric. Facebook pages like Rise Up Ocean County, banned twice from Facebook since January 2020, have reconfigured their longstanding litany of inflammatory accusations, to deploy anew during the COVID crisis.
What are the specific tropes being levied against Haredi Jews, and where did they come from? I’ve spent countless hours studying white nationalist anti-Semitism, as a researcher with Political Research Associates, a think tank that studies right-wing movements. I’ve also spent months tracking the rhetoric of anti-Haredi pages like Rise Up Ocean County, and tracing its evolution before and during the COVID crisis.
I’ve found that anti-Haredi anti-Semitism often looks different than the white nationalist anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and rightwing scapegoating of “globalists” and George Soros, that many are used to encountering. In many ways, the tropes that, time and again, demonize Haredim as backwards invaders, are similar to the xenophobia and Islamophobia we see on the rise across America, in the era of Trump.”