As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the country, so too do incidents of hatred targeting Jews, Asians and Latinos.
“It started in January with dirty looks, insults and misinformation that Asian businesses should be avoided because they would contaminate people with the disease,” U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Los Angeles, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “But in the last month it’s escalated to spitting, yelling and physical attacks against Asian Americans, and it’s happening all around the country.”
Chu was one of three congresswomen who took part in the Anti-Defamation League’s March 26 webinar, “Fighting Hate From Home: The Danger to Minority Groups Due to Coronavirus-fueled Xenophobia.” Hosted by Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s national director and CEO, the webinar focused on President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and on steps the congresswomen have taken to address the rising hatred.
Greenblatt spoke of the human urge to blame and scapegoat certain groups when there have been diseases. He said there have been attempts to blame Asians, immigrants, Jews and Israel for COVID-19.
“Additionally, white supremacists have increased their efforts to not only promulgate conspiracy theories, but blaming the coronavirus on Jews or Asians. They have expressed their hope that the virus will target minority groups, and some have even suggested that those amongst their ranks who are infected with the virus should go visit synagogues, centers of Jewish life or even target law enforcement to intentionally spread the virus to them,” he said, adding that one of the white supremacists’ aims is to accelerate a race war.
Chu described more recent attacks on Asian Americans.
“In New York, there was a physical assault on a subway against a woman for wearing a face mask,” Chu said. “In Philadelphia an Asian man and woman were kicked and punched by a group of young people on a subway platform. In Texas a man stabbed three Asian Americans, two of them children, at a Sam’s Club, saying that he wanted to kill Asian Americans. In the Bay Area, a man had to be stopped from beating up an Asian American man because he coughed at a Daly City Target store. And in Los Angeles a 16-year-old boy was sent to the hospital when he was attacked by bullies who accused him of having coronavirus. In fact, according to the three API hate crime reporting sites, there have been over 1,000 hate crime incidents reported in the last five weeks.”
Chu said Trump has fanned the flames by calling coronavirus “the China virus” against the advice of top health advisers.
“We have called out the president and other Republican leaders who are following this terminology every single time that they do it because we want people to know that this is a global pandemic and now is the time for us to unite and help one another so we can get through this crisis,” she said.
Chu spoke of Trump’s recognition that Asian Americans need protection as a victory, following letters from Chinese Americans and Pacific Islanders.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fort Lauderdale, co-chair of the Congressional Black-Jewish Relations Caucus, spoke about anti-Semitism.
“As we speak, there are accusations that it is Jews somehow that started the coronavirus,” she said. “And whether it is Jews who are attending George Washington University who had to self-quarantine as a result of potential exposure, to the accusation that Jews are the source of the virus, particularly because of the outbreaks in Westchester County and the Orthodox community – we have, you know, an outbreak here amongst our Orthodox community in South Florida – we absolutely need to make sure that we take opportunities like this one and use our leadership platform.”
Schultz urged viewers to ask their congresspeople to convene meetings with community leaders, as she has done, to plan responses to the rise of hate.
U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said of particular concern to her is the lack of sanitary conditions at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers and in prisons.
“I got a call early after the outbreak that even some of the immigration courts were not providing … sanitizers or wipes or anything,” she said. “I think there is just a level of lack of concern, which was there before, but has been heightened by the virus.”
Garcia spoke of the need for data – and for individuals to report incidents – to help bolster claims that such bigotry exists in the face of denial.
Greenblatt said ADL has pressed for social media companies to take hate speech off their platforms and combat disinformation.
“All of us can find ways again to speak up, share facts and show strength,” he said. “There’s no doubt that everyone has the ability to push back against prejudice.”