Jews and the Dangers of COVID Confusion

The coronavirus should bring humanity together in order to find a cure and help those who fall ill. No matter our race or religion or nationality, we can all contract this disease. But as we all scramble to answer the open questions in terms of transmission, prognosis, and treatment for coronavirus, ugly forms of hatred and ominous conspiracy theories have begun to fill the void.

This bile has run the gamut from far-fetched accusations that hospitals are inflating coronavirus deaths for financial gain to vicious attacks against Chinese Americans. Conspiracy theories have been echoed by media figures like Sean Hannity and politicians like Tom Cotton. Of course, such conspiracy theories have even found their way to the world’s greatest megaphone: the President of the United States.

President Trump has been known to indulge in unsubstantiated explanations that have defied science. He initially pretended that the coronavirus was no less deadly than the flu, and fulminated against what he called the Democrats’ “new hoax.” All in the face of leading experts and, on occasion, simple math.

This aversion to and perhaps inability to lead based on facts and sound science has caused tens of thousands of preventable deaths, and an exponential growth of COVID cases in the United States. As we know, Trump was alerted as early as January by intelligence agencies about the threat of coronavirus. But he neglected to use that time to follow the expert advice and failed to adequately ramp up testing in the critical window of February. In fact, over two months his administration allowed almost $17.6 million worth of medical equipment to be shipped on planes to China. It was only recently that he finally used his power to stop the sale of N-95 masks and other medical equipment overseas.

Our first thoughts go to the victims of this incompetence and their families. For those who have died, may their memory be a blessing. For those who are sick, may they have a full and speedy recovery. We are all in this together, and should take pride in how so many faith communities have risen to the occasion to help not only their congregants, but members of other communities.

While many responsible actors seek to find the right answers to our generation’s greatest health threat, the racists and conspiracy theorists have of course resorted to anti-Semitism. This should be no surprise, as Jews have long been blamed for plagues, back to the Black Death, when fanatics carried out pogroms on the pretext that Jews were poisoning wells in order to spread the disease.

A new report shows that racists have been exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to scapegoat Jews. The special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief at the United Nations expressed concern about this rise in anti-Semitism and called for a strong response. Meanwhile, many of the protesters who have snarled traffic in a number of state capitals to demonstrate against lockdowns have pointed their fingers at George Soros as some kind of architect of the coronavirus.

Undeterred, our president continues to stoke hatred of minorities and outsiders. He decided on Monday — of course via tweet — to use this plague to ban all immigration into the United States. And he repeatedly has referred to the coronavirus as “the Chinese virus.” That this also imperils the status of Jews within American society might not be immediately apparent, but it does so in an insidious manner. Jews have thrived in the United States due to a larger climate of tolerance and welcome extended to peoples from diverse backgrounds. When pluralism comes under attack, so in the end will our community. As our political leaders go down the path of demonizing the “other,” we Jews aren’t spared.

The despicable human beings who take the lack of clarity of our times as an opportunity to feed their hatred will, unfortunately, always exist. However, we can work to starve the swamp of misinformation with an approach to this international pandemic that is based on facts, science, and the advice of experts.

When he chooses to, President Trump is right to rely on the advice of distinguished doctors such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx. But too often he falls into his reflexive instinct to blame everyone except for himself.

That’s certainly not good for the Jews and, more importantly, harmful for us all. Trump and his enablers continue to feed an environment that encourages the sickness of human hatred as well as the deadly disease of COVID-19. We must fight both with the same vigor.

About the Author
Aaron Keyak is an experienced publicist and a leader in fighting for both the progressive and pro-Israel communities, in political campaigns as well as on Capitol Hill. Aaron previously served as the communications director for Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), a leading pro-Israel progressive who represented the highest percentage of Jewish Americans in the United States. Aaron also advised the congressman on Middle East policy, and led the messaging strategy around the congressman’s top priorities including on issues ranging from a woman’s right to choose and the fight for LGBT rights to strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship and fighting anti-Semitism. Aaron also spearheaded the drafting, coalition building and legislative negotiations surrounding a timely congressional resolution condemning the rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout the world in 2014, which passed the House unanimously. Immediately following President Obama’s re-election in 2012, Aaron became the interim executive director for the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC). During the election he headed the campaign media Hub, a rapid-response research and media outreach team that promoted President Obama’s message around foreign policy issues and to the Jewish community. Prior to leading the Hub, he served as the communications director and top Middle East adviser for former Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), also serving on the congressman’s campaign – including a multimillion-dollar, nationally targeted primary campaign. When he started with Congressman Rothman, Aaron was the youngest communications director on Capitol Hill. Aaron led the messaging, press and political strategy in support of Congressman Rothman’s early championing of Israel’s lifesaving defense program, Iron Dome, as well as the congressman’s outspoken advocacy for U.S.-Israel joint missile defense programs, David’s Sling, Arrow 2 and Arrow 3. Aaron also helped assist the congressman in his role as a member of the House Appropriations Foreign Operations and State Subcommittee, which appropriates all U.S. foreign aid. During the 2008 election and for the first year of President Obama’s term, Aaron led NJDC’s press operations. While at NJDC, he was recognized as one of the top political pundits on Twitter by The Hill and was named a leader in “steering conversation about Jewish life on Twitter” by JTA. Aaron got his professional start in Washington as an associate at Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications. Aaron received his bachelor’s degree with honors from Washington University in St. Louis and is a Truman National Security Project scholar, trained in defense, foreign policy and national security issues.
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