COVID-19’s Bigotry Epicenters: Asian And Jewish Americans

As COVID-19 sweeps the globe, there have been surges in anti-Asian hate crimes and the radical right is repackaging longstanding anti-Semitic tropes.
Jessica Wong, Jenny Chiang, and Sheila Vo, from the state’s Asian American Commission, protest on the steps of the Statehouse in Boston – Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Source: <a href="https://commonwealthmagazine.org/arts-and-culture/virus-notes-discrimination-warning-issued/">CommonWealth Magazine</a>)

Jessica Wong, Jenny Chiang, and Sheila Vo, from the state’s Asian American Commission, protest on the steps of the Statehouse in Boston – Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Source: CommonWealth Magazine)

Dr. Ayal Feinberg is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University-Commerce and a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right.

With COVID-19 likely originating in Wuhan China, the virus’ first epicenter, a considerable amount of global animus has been directed toward China. The Chinese regime has been blamed for providing a fertile breeding ground for this pandemic through its failure to regulate wet markets and its support of rampant wild animal farming and trade primarily for Chinese traditional medicines.

As the coronavirus spread outside of China and became a pandemic, the Chinese regime has been accused of hiding the true extent of the threat with the rest of the world, lying about essential health data, and blaming the United States for the outbreak. As Julia DeCook recently noted in her informative CARR post exploring coronavirus and the radical right, others have gone as far as claiming that the COVID-19 was a biological weapon created by the Chinese government. As a consequence, animus toward China has inevitably spread to Chinese-Americans, and more broadly, to Asian Americans as a whole.

Conspiracy theories regarding COVID-19 have been increasing exponentially along with the disease’s infection and fatality rates, and many are no longer aimed at China’s alleged role in the pandemic. A growing number of conspiracies have targeted Jews and Israel, not only underscoring the broader empirical link connecting general conspiracy and anti-Semitism but highlighting that the coronavirus offers a unique opportunity for the radical right to spread anti-Semitic hate.

While the media has documented spikes in reported discrimination and hate crime targeting Asian Americans across the United States, reports of increased anti-Semitism have come almost exclusively from organizations with missions to document anti-Jewish prejudice (e.g., the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)). Furthermore, contemporary accounts of coronavirus-related anti-Semitism have been primarily limited to the online spread of bigotry and misinformation. Thankfully, there has not been reporting of coronavirus-motivated anti-Semitic physical assaults and vandalism.

Assessing contemporary COVID-19 related bigotry leads to several significant questions for scholars and practitioners alike. I will attempt to answer two in this post. First, what is the immediate effect that the coronavirus is having on anti-Asian and anti-Semitic behavior in the United States, and why will it be different for each group? Second, after the pandemic has ended, what will be the long-term impacts of hate targeting these minorities?

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Immediate Effects Of COVID-19 Bigotry

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), hate crimes targeting Asian Americans as a consequence of COVID-19 are likely spiking across the country. In an official report, the organization is quoted as saying, “The FBI assesses hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States, due to the spread of coronavirus disease … endangering Asian American communities.” The Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council is attempting to monitor this prediction empirically by launching a coronavirus discrimination submission website, “Stop AAPI Hate.” From March 19, 2020, to April 3, 2020, this website has reported over 1,135 reports of incidents targeting Asian Americans across the country in the past two weeks.

If all of the AAPI’s 1,135 reported incidents reached the level of a hate crime, in the last two weeks, Asian Americans incredibly will have suffered more than 7.5 times the bias-motivated crimes reported against this group for the entirety of 2018 (the last year of available FBI data). Of course, many, if not most of these incidents may not rise to a prosecutable offense with over 2/3rds of events being reported as verbal harassment and name-calling for AAPI’s first week of data.

Importantly, the AAPI data suggests that the vast majority of these incidents are occurring away from the homes and residences of Asian Americans, with the plurality of incidents being reported at business sites or in public. Consequently, as fewer and fewer Americans leave their homes, it is reasonable to conclude that Anti-Asian events may decrease simply from diminished opportunity.

Measuring COVID-19 related anti-Semitic incidents is less clear. While the ADL’s Hate, Extremism, Anti-Semitism, Terrorism map has reported an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents over the last month, no evidence have directly or indirectly indicated the coronavirus was an incident’s primary motivation.

What we do know, however, is that the coronavirus is creating new opportunities for anti-Semitic Internet trolls. 12 of the 15 anti-Semitic incidents reported between March 30th, 2020, and April 2nd, 2020, have involved racist “Zoombombing” attacks. Some of these disruptions have been particularly disturbing. As examples, a hacker interrupted a Jewish school’s virtual class with the message “Gas the Jews” in Florida. At the University of Illinois Urbana, a Zoom class was interrupted by a hacker who stated “Heil Hitler” and threatened to kill students.

Long-Term Impacts Of Coronavirus-Related Hate

It is incredibly challenging to predict the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the insecurity of Asian and Jewish Americans. The scale of the coronavirus is both unbelievable and unknown. President Trump has gone as far as suggesting that holding virus fatalities between 100,000 and 200,000 in the United States would constitute the success of his administration’s response to COVID-19. For reference, the death of 150,000 Americans would be over 50 times the number that directly perished in the September 11th attacks.

Despite the difference in scale, September 11th may provide a useful guide in determining how anti-Asian hate will manifest in behavior over time. In 2001, Anti-Islamic bias incidents reached their highest reported counts in the United States, with the vast majority being reported in the months directly following 9/11 according to the FBI. For 2002, Anti-Islamic hate crimes dropped by more than 300% and remained relatively consistent for the next decade.

Consequently, it is quite possible to expect Anti-Asian hate crimes will surge as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage (although limited by social distancing measures and mandatory lockdowns). However, while baseline levels of anti-Asian hate may remain higher over the next decade, bias-incidents should dramatically decline in the aftermath of the coronavirus.

As for American Jews, COVID-19-related anti-Semitism seems to be more about repackaging tropes to match current events than representing a new wave of hatred. Further, in the last five years, the Alt-Right’s and Radical Right’s creative and adaptive usage of the Internet to further anti-Semitism has made coronavirus-focused Jew-hatred seem less innovative and alarming.

However, broader trends of increasing anti-Semitism, particularly violent anti-Semitism targeting Jews in the U.S., show no long-term signs of waning. Beyond the standard, diminishing of potential perpetrator-victim interactions required for most hate crimes as a result of coronavirus isolation, American Jewry should remain hyper-vigilant as they remain one of the most disproportionately targeted minority groups in America.

This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.

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News // Anti-Asian Hate / Anti-Semitism / CARR / Coronavirus / Racism