In the 14th century, for example, Jews were massacred in France during the black plague epidemic after being accused of spreading the disease by poisoning water wells. In the city of Strasbourg alone, 2,000 Jews were burned alive on the orders of the local council, according to the book by historian Robert Gottfried “Black Death”.
This kind of conspiracy theory related to the disease has not been widely used for centuries. Now, however, the coronavirus is reviving this strain of anti-Semitism in France.
“It is deeply sad and shocking, but the coronavirus pandemic reminds us that Jews will be blamed each time there is an epidemic, whether today or 1347,” said Marc Knobel, a historian who since 2002 is the head of studies at CRIF. coordination group of French Jewish communities.
In recent weeks, a cartoon by Agnes Buzyn, the former French health minister who was Jewish, pouring poison into a well – a representation of one of the most common theories that led to pogroms during the plague of the black plague – toured French social media networks. It has been shared tens of thousands of times.
Another viral image is superimposed Buzyn face on the anti-Semitic cartoon of the “happy merchant,” which shows a smiling Jewish man rubbing his palms together.
Then there is a widely shared video accusing Buzyn and her husband Yves Levy, also a Jew, of withholding chloroquine – an antimalarial drug touted as a possible antidote to the coronavirus by some, including US President Donald Trump, but whose the efficacy against the coronavirus is unproven – from the French public for financial gain. It collected 170,000 views on YouTube before being deleted.
Alain Soral, a Holocaust denier repeatedly convicted of inciting hatred against Jews, said in a video he posted on YouTube that the virus is used by “the lighting community, which he we are forbidden to name “who” wants to cash the backs of the French to weaken the French by the weight of the balance sheet. “
The statement, which echoes similar allegations made against Jews in the Middle Ages, was unusual for Soral, who likes to mask his hate speech in academic language and the pseudo-rational constructions he passionately delivers.
But for historian Knobel, the scope of the video was even more surprising. His 406,000 views made him the second most popular video on Soral’s YouTube channel, Kontre Kulture, which he launched eight years ago.
Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, the French anti-Semitic comedian and friend of Soral, posted similar theories on his YouTube channel, which contains hundreds of videos. Its first article on the virus received 410,000 views – its highest number of clicks in more than six months.
Major French media have taken note of the anti-Semitic chatter around Buzyn, including the news site Here and public radio France Inter, which said that the pandemic “set off a wave of anti-Semitic rhetoric”.
Anti-Semites in the United States and beyond have seized the coronavirus to spread their messages, the Anti-Defamation League said in a March 17 report on the phenomenon. But the trend has been most disturbing in France, where Knobel says the authors have done well to place anti-Semitism at the forefront of everyone’s concerns.
“The rhetoric comes from the same crowd of anti-Semites who trafficked in other types of anti-Semitic content before the corona crisis,” he said. “They’ve just adapted their hate speech to the main theme of the discussion to make it more effective.”
Anti-Semites have adopted the virus as a theme to convey their message to a large audience, frightened and angry. Knobel said that with everyone locked up, loyal viewers of people like Soral and Dieudonne will inevitably consume and broadcast more. He also said that anti-Semitism in France also shows “how fragile, polarized and confused French society is.”
Even before the virus, polls suggested growing resentment against the government of President Emmanuel Macron, a centrist who promised to reform the French economy at the expense of its social provisions. In a January survey, Macron’s approval rating was 25%, down 16 points from 2018.
Its popularity is unlikely to improve after the pandemic, which killed 4,000 people in France. On March 6, with nine dead, Macron went to the theater to demonstrate that normal life could go on. A week later, schools, bars and other non-essential businesses close their doors in anticipation of a total foreclosure that was finally imposed on March 17.
A recent example of unrest in France shows how anti-Semitism can follow the crisis quickly there. The Yellow Vests protests – populist protesters pushing for economic reform, so called because of the reflective safety vests they wear – included signs and slogans describing Macron as a “whore of the Jews” and their “puppet”. During a demonstration last year, the Yellow Vests attacked the famous French Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, calling him “dirty Zionist”, until the police intervened to put him in safety.
The bar for anti-Semitism against coronaviruses is decreasing day by day. For example, Meyer Habib, a Franco-Jewish legislator, recently tweeted about the death of the virus from Maurice Bidermann, a Holocaust survivor, whom he praised as “humanist and Zionist”.
Bidermann’s family later said he died of natural causes, but Habib’s tweet has always sparked a slew of anti-Semitic vitriol, including by a user who wrote: “One less con artist, but the list is still long. ” Another said: “Too bad he didn’t pay his taxes in France, maybe we would have had more beds for the sick. “
Bidermann, a fashion mogul, was convicted in 2003 of corporate embezzlement and spent two months in prison.
“There is apparently no cure or vaccine for the anti-Semitic hate virus,” said Knobel, “and this is something we have to think about and deal with long after this virus is defeated. “