TAU’s Kantor Center reports decrease in anti-Semitic physical violence but increase in desecrations of synagogues and graveyards

Report also finds disturbing increase in anti-Semitism on the Internet during COVID-19 era

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The Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University has published its annual Anti-Semitism Report which summarizes anti-Semitism incidents for 2020. The findings were announced today in advance of Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday, April 8, 2021.

The report, which covered the year of the pandemic lockdown, revealed contradictory trends, including a decrease in physical violence but an increase in the rise of blatant anti-Semitic expressions on the Internet and social networks. The decrease in physical violence was due to reduced encounters between Jews and violent anti-Semites. Jews were accused of being allegedly responsible for the global pandemic and the Coronavirus.

The total worldwide number of violent anti-Semitic events decreased from 456 in 2019 to 371 in 2020. At the same time, there was a 20% increase in desecrations of synagogues, graveyards and Holocaust memorials, which were closed or unguarded due to the lockdown and easy prey for anti-Semitic vandalism. In addition, new phenomena developed on the Internet, such as Zoom bombing and the darknet, which are difficult to quantify.

  Violent incidents Physical injury Damage to property Desecration of synagogues, graveyards and Holocaust memorials
2020 371 107 84 159
2019 456 170 130 130

Produced in cooperation with the European Jewish Congress, the annual report is based on thousands of testimonies from around the world, which were reported to the Kantor Center through an international network the Center established several years ago, including 60 participants who regularly contribute information about anti-Semitism worldwide. 

Professor Dina Porat, Head of the Kantor Center, noted, “The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting reality dictated both the nature and extent of anti-Semitism in 2020, which was an unusually tense and turbulent year all over the world. Prejudice, superstition, primordial emotions and bizarre theories surfaced on the scene, and both verbal and visual manifestations of these theories were vicious and outrageous. Blaming the Jews and Israelis for developing and spreading the coronavirus (or ‘Judeovirus’) was the main motif in this year’s anti-Semitic manifestations. This notion is rooted in a deep fear of the Jew/Israeli as a spreader of disease in both the past and present.”

As the pandemic began to spread across the globe, it was immediately followed by accusations that the virus had been developed and was being spread by Jews and Israelis, who were accused of conspiring to create the disease, then to “find” a cure and vaccine for it, thereby making a huge profit. Over the following months this libel spread rapidly. The Kantor Center received reports to this effect from dozens of countries, in the form of aggressive messages and numerous malicious caricatures. Moreover, the accusation was not exclusive to extremist circles, such as white supremacists, ultra-conservative Christians, or the usual accusers like Iran, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority. It also spread to populations with no well-defined political or ideological identities.

Vaccine opponents equated the restrictions and lockdowns for containing the pandemic with policies of the Nazi regime. Lockdowns were compared to incarceration in ghettos and concentration camps; vaccines were described as medical experiments; certificates granting privileges after vaccination were compared to the infamous “selection” procedure in Nazi death camps; antivaxxers felt that they were as undesirable and persecuted as the Jews had been; the epitaph on the gate to Auschwitz served as a source for the new slogan “Vaccination liberates”; and so on. In Germany, where opposition to the vaccines is particularly strong, demonstrators wore a yellow star on their clothes, with the word “unvaccinated” replacing the word “Jew,” and called Chancellor Angela Merkel a Nazi.

The advent of the vaccines, coupled with Israel’s vast vaccination campaign, reinforced the accusations. Attention was drawn to Israelis and Jews who hold prominent positions in the companies that produce these vaccines, like Tal Zaks, Chief Medical Officer at Moderna, and Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer. Israelis and Jews were accused of collaborating so that Israel would be first to recover from the pandemic, while the rest of the world stood in line and begged the Jews for help.

Other significant findings included:

  • Lockdowns reduced encounters between Jews and their ill-wishers, and consequently the number of violent events declined in 2020 from 456 to 371, a number similar to 2016-18. No one was murdered this year for being Jewish (even though physical attacks could have led to loss of life), and the number of bodily injuries decreased from 170 in 2019 to 107 in 2020. Damage to private property was also reduced from 130 to 84 incidents.
  • Reports of vandalism towards Jewish communal property and institutions remained steady, and in some cases even increased. The number of desecrations of graveyards, Holocaust memorials and other Jewish monuments rose from 77 (2019) to 96 (2020) worldwide. The number of vandalized synagogues also increased from 53 (2019) to 63 (2020); closed, they became easy prey.
  • In the US a gradual rise in violent incidents has been observed for several years, reaching 119 this year (compared to 99 in 2017 for example), and Germany also saw a significant escalation in the total number of cases, from a total of 2,032 in 2019 to 2,275 in 2020. In both countries, vandalism accounted for most of the incidents.
  • A significant decline was noted in Australia, the UK and especially France, where the Ministry of the Interior and the Jewish community both reported a drop of 50% in all types of anti-Semitic incidents due to the tight lockdown. In Canada, the number of violent cases dropped by more than half. Most incidents occurred in countries with large Jewish communities: the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, France and Germany. In all other countries, with the exception of Ukraine, fewer than 10 incidents per country were reported in 2020.
  • The Internet continued to be a troubling nexus of anti-Semitic activity. When Zoom became a major means of communication, a phenomenon called “Zoom bombing” emerged, in which individuals broke into Zoom conferences of synagogues, Jewish community centers and Jewish students, disrupting meetings and using the platform to display swastikas, anti-Semitic presentations and speeches, among other activities. In the US over 200 cases of Zoom bombing were registered.
  • In addition, extremist groups of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, especially from the far right, left public social networks and descended into the darknet, where they could be free of any supervision or restrictions. Here, undisturbed, they run their own websites that are very hard to monitor. While the number of anti-Semitic manifestations in the public networks declined, activities on the darknet intensified.

The report is available on the Kantor Center web site here.


The Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry was inaugurated in May 2010 at Tel Aviv University. The Center provides an academic framework for the interdisciplinary research of European Jewry from the end of World War II until the present day. The Center offers a platform for the diverse needs of researchers, students, governmental and civil service personnel, professionals, activists, and the public at large, both in Israel and abroad, and cooperates with European Jewish communities and their leaders. 

Tel Aviv University (TAU) is a globally top-ranked university, a leading research institution, and a center of discovery. As Israel’s largest public institution of higher learning, TAU is home to 30,000 students, including 2,100 international students from over 100 countries. The University encompasses nine faculties, 35 schools, 400 labs, and has 17 affiliated hospitals in its network.

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"The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting reality dictated both the nature and extent of anti-Semitism in 2020, which was an unusually tense and turbulent year all over the world."