July 20, 2023

A New Antisemitic COVID-19 Conspiracy Theory by RFK Jr.

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. claimed COVID specifically spared Ashkenazi Jews, setting off a social media storm of antisemitic conspiracy theories.

Missing the days when COVID-19 conspiracy theories were popping up almost as often as… cases of COVID-19? Here’s a new dose of theories you can inject right into the “What were they thinking?” category. 

Social media is in an uproar following the New York Post’s recent story highlighting claims by presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (RFK Jr.) that coronavirus was specifically engineered to avoid infecting Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people. 

Many, including the White House, condemned RFK Jr.’s words. Unfortunately, once a conspiracy is let loose, it can spread like a virus and take on a life of its own. Despite the widespread outcry criticizing RFK Jr.’s comments, CyberWell detected a surge in antisemitic discourse across social media platforms, particularly on Twitter.

Below we break down some of the main antisemitic narratives that were spurred on by RFK Jr.’s remarks.

RFK Jr. is Right

Sound familiar? In late 2022 and following rapper Ye’s antisemitic rants, internet users came to the celebrity’s defense declaring #YeIsRight. Check out CyberWell’s report on how Ye’s comments led to massive spikes in online antisemitic narratives. 

This time around, some social media users justified RFK Jr.’s statement with odd claims and dubious evidence. Some used “science speak” and referenced questionable studies claiming to show that COVID-19 affected Ashkenazi Jews less than other populations.

Note that the first Tweet below earned over 635,000 views! 

Screenshot of an antisemitic Tweet claiming COVID-19 was designed to spare Jewish people

Some posts also included the antisemitic hashtag #TheNoticing, which continues to spread hateful content across social media. CyberWell analyzed this hashtag in several reports, including our deep dive into the Judeo-Masonic Conspiracy Theory. In short, #TheNoticing perpetuates a variety of stereotypes about Jews infiltrating key positions around the globe and calls for people to “wake up” to cunning Jewish deceit.

Holocaust Distortion and Blaming Jews for Global Tragedies

A dominant trope CyberWell frequently detects is the false accusation that the Jewish people secretly orchestrated the Holocaust. Following RFK Jr.’s statement, we observed the following expressions of this trope:

  1. Blaming Ashkenazi Jews overtly for orchestrating the Holocaust.
  2. Claiming that the last four letters of the word “Ashkenazi”, which spells out “nazi”, proves that the Ashkenazi Jews actually were the Nazis all along.

 

Some users took this a step further, accusing Ashkenazi Jews of causing major world events such as World War I and the current war between Russia and Ukraine.

“Ashkenazi Jews” Trending on Twitter

Following RFK Jr.’s statement, “Ashkenazi Jews” began trending on Twitter.  The mere fact that this phrase was trending boosted a slew of additional antisemitic conspiracy theories as well, including claims that Jews control the media, academia, entertainment, the economy, and the U.S. Government. One Twitter user claimed that the hashtags #AshkenaziJews and #antiwhite were trending simultaneously, further prompting allegations that Jews are working to undermine “white people” in general.

Antisemitic Lies Shouldn’t Have Legs on Social Media Platforms

Misinformation and mendacious claims like RFK Jr.’s antisemitic conspiracy theory are dangerous.  Words like his can directly harm real people and cause violent real-world events.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read Parashat Devarim, which always falls on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av.  This isn’t a coincidence.  This parsha includes the story of the sin of the spies. Over a year after the Israelites left Egypt, spies were sent to scout the land of Canaan.[1] After 40 days, the spies returned and reported back lies about the country and its inhabitants. The spies falsely claimed that it wouldn’t be possible to defeat the local population in battle.[2]  As a result of the false report, the Israelites doubted God.  They were seized with fear and panic, and some even wanted to return to Egypt.[3]  The Torah states that, as a result of this behavior, the Israelites were punished with 40 years of wandering in the desert.[4]  The Mishnah and the Talmud further add that the behavior of the Israelites on that day, the ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av), was so unacceptable that its repercussions reverberated far into the future.  Tisha B’Av became an unlucky day, and many disasters befalling the Jewish people occurred on this day throughout history.[5]

Lies can spread rapidly long before the truth comes out, influencing people’s perceptions of events.  As the famous quote goes, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”  This is truer than ever in the social media era. Platforms must recognize the enormous power they have as their technology enables the transmission of information to massive numbers of people in a short time.  This technology also imbues a great responsibility in preventing the disastrous spreading of hate.

CyberWell is in the fight for ethical tech.  We work every day to stop the spread of antisemitic lies on social media platforms.  We urge you to join our mission by reporting antisemitic content at app.cyberwell.org.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Bamidbar (Numbers) 13:1-20; Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:22-23.

[2] Bamidbar (Numbers) 13:27-33; Jerusalem Talmud Ta’anit 4:5.

[3] Bamidbar (Numbers) 14:1-4; Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:26-28.

[4] Bamidbar (Numbers) 14:21-23, 28-35; Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:34-35.

[5] Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 26b, 29a.

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