Everything That’s Old Is New Again

Samuel J. Aronson
5 min readApr 23, 2020

In 1886, Édouard Drumont, who can only be described as a professional antisemite, wrote in his antisemitic screed, La France juive (Jewish France) “All comes from the Jew; all returns to the Jew.” Monsieur Drumont would find himself in good company today as the smoldering embers of antisemitism endemic across the globe are fanned into a full-scale conflagration by coronavirus conspiracy theorists.

Antisemitism on display by someone protesting Ohio’s stay-at-home order.

This new global pandemic has created some very strange bedfellows: American far-right bigots have joined with radicals in the middle east to either accuse Jews of creating coronavirus, being especially susceptible to it, or being impervious to its effects. In Florida, a strongly pro-Trump pastor sermonized, “it’s spreading in Israel through the synagogues. God is spreading it in your synagogues! You are under judgment because you oppose his son, Jesus Christ. That is why you have a plague in your synagogues. Repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and the plague will stop.” Last month in Iran, a propaganda outlet, PressTV, claimed that “Zionist elements developed a deadlier strain of coronavirus against Iran.” In India, a parliamentarian falsely asserted on Twitter, “there have been no deaths due to COVID-19 in Israel.” And in Pakistan, a country which usually never sees eye-to-eye with anything Indian, a columnist said that the coronavirus was “a new weapon in Biological warfare and a #Zionist conspiracy.” Strange bedfellows, indeed.

Strange, but far from original. Antisemitism has never been grounded in rationality, but emotion. Like all conspiracy theories, antisemitism is a simple way to explain the complicated, and to create an enemy easier to vanquish than microbes.

Medieval illumination depicting Jews being burned.

As the so-called black death ravaged Europe from 1347–1353, Jews were frequently blamed for either bringing plague as divine punishment, or directly accused of creating and disseminating the plague as part of their plot to destroy the world. Pogroms, antisemitic riots frequently resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Jews, followed bubonic plague across Europe. Communities in France, Spain, and Belgium ravaged their Jewish neighbors in retaliation for the plague. In 1349 in Strasbourg, Germany, the largest pogrom at the time took the lives of hundreds of Jews who were burned alive as a precautionary measure to protect the city from the plague.

Slaughtering Jews en masse as a form of prophylaxis did not end in the middle ages. The Nazis couched all of their antisemitism in the language of science and race, claiming their anti-Jewish genocide, the largest in human history, would protect the world from Jews who brought diseases like typhus and weakened genetic lines. In 1953, Stalin’s Soviet Union murdered hundreds of Jewish physicians, accusing them of killing their prominent patients. And in the 1980s, black separatist extremists accused Jews of creating and spreading AIDS.

When there is fear and a threat which cannot be seen or controlled or stopped, antisemitism offers quick and convenient solutions. On the right-wing social media site Gab, a user with the screen name “diejewdie” wrote “Unless we deport these filthy jews, this pandemic is never gonna stop!”

This hate is not confined to the fringes of the internet. Two weeks ago, a man attempted to blow up a nursing home in Massachusetts that caters to a mostly Jewish clientele. The nursing home was targeted by two white supremacist websites, and the day of the attack one of those hate groups had named “jew killing day.” The prosecutor in the case said the attack “appears to have been greatly influenced by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.” This attack comes on the heels of the 2018 mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, the murder of three people in 2019 in a shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, NJ, and a knife attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, NY.

Armed protesters march in Lansing, Michigan.

What is especially concerning is how antisemitism often spikes most heavily in times of economic calamity. As the economy and stock market plummet, and unemployment surges to unprecedented highs, antisemitism is sure to follow. On Thursday, the same day the US saw its highest number of deaths from COVID-19, angry protesters swarmed the steps of several state capitals, not practicing distancing but carrying weapons, demanding an end to the public health measures which have both saved lives and cost jobs. Via Twitter President Trump has seemed to endorse their intimations of violent insurrection.

Drumont is remembered today by historians because of his unified antisemitic theory of everything: biological (Jews are racially different and inferior to non-Jews), financial (Jews control the economy and use it to harm others while enriching themselves), and theological (Jews are guilty of deicide). Today coronavirus has once again united many strands of antisemitism. For thousands of years, Jews have been accused of bringing plague, poisoning the well, killing children, and even killing god. Those accusations have resulted in mass murder across continents and generations. If we are to avoid the fates of the past we must be proactive.

On September 17, 2001, six days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, George W. Bush visited a mosque in Washington, DC and quoted from the Koran: “In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil.” Leadership matters, and many credit President Bush’s stance with helping to quell anti-Muslim violence at the time. It is incumbent upon all of us to take a similar stance and reject even the inkling of bigotry in our communities, online, and around our dinner tables. Now is the time to come together, not seek simplistic answers in division and hate. In 1941, more than three million cars were manufactured in the United States. Throughout the rest of World War II, only 139 would roll off American assembly lines. We are capable of uniting as a country and facing adversity without scapegoating and sucumming to our basest instincts. As the 13th century Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi wrote: “the wound is the place where the light enters you.”

Samuel J. Aronson is an Assistant Dean in the Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in Washington, DC. He studies the role of science and technology in the Holocaust.



Samuel J. Aronson

Holocaust Historian and Georgetown University Associate Dean