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Israel sees Holocaust tropes in COVID protests fueling anti-Semitism

Several U.S. and British politicians have in recent months apologized after suggesting vaccine or lockdown policies recalled Hitler's regime.

Anti-vaccine mandate protesters march in Washington D.C.
People march as they carry placards during a march in opposition to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) mandates on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on January 23, 2022.
LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS
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JERUSALEM — Protesters against COVID-19 measures who liken themselves to Jews under Nazi persecution are stoking global anti-Semitism, the Israeli government said in a report marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Such Holocaust tropes have become "widespread" and, along with violent demonstrations linked to Israel's May war in Gaza, were main factors behind physical or online attacks on Jews in Europe and North America last year, said the 152-page report by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry.

Several U.S. and British politicians have in recent months apologized after suggesting vaccine or lockdown policies recalled Hitler's regime.

Some demonstrators against pandemic curbs have worn yellow stars like those the Nazis forced on European Jews.

Such displays showed factual knowledge of the genocide was eroding, the report said, adding that some COVID-19 agitators have been "consuming and disseminating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that Jews are responsible for the crisis and are using it for oppression, global domination, economic gain, etc."

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Protest against government's "Green Pass" plan in Rome
A protester demonstrating against the Green Pass plan (health pass), a certificate that shows if someone has received at least the first dose of the vaccine, has tested negative or has recently recovered from COVID-19, wears a Second World War emblem depicting the star of David badge with a German word "Jude" (Jew), as a health pass certificate has become mandatory to access an array of services and leisure activities, in Rome on August 14, 2021.
REMO CASILLI/REUTERS

Expanding on the findings, Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai said Holocaust distortion or trivialization is itself anti-Semitic and can sometimes lead to actual endangerment of Jews.

"There are people so fraught with hate who can, when faced with such imagery, be tipped over into action," he told Reuters.

The Combat Antisemitism Movement, a U.S.-based non-profit, said that in 2020 and 2021 it had found 63.7 million engagements — participation, sharing or "liking" — during online discussions linking the pandemic to the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem, Israel's main Holocaust memorial, has urged world leaders to come out against such discourse — a call apparently heeded by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who on Monday said the yellow star protests were "reprehensible."

"COVID brought Holocaust trivialization to a summit," said Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan. "Things like that, sometimes done by politicians, by public figures, are despicable and Yad Vashem is very clear in demanding those persons retract."

Former Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, whose parents and brother were among the six million Jews killed by the Nazis and who himself survived a concentration camp as a child, had a more personal appeal during a Reuters interview.

"Please leave the word 'Holocaust' for the Holocaust - and nothing but it," he said.

(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise.)

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