News that anti-Semitic flyers were distributed in Greensboro neighborhoods on Sunday, December 19 has riled the North Carolina Jewish community. The story was picked up by the national media and reported in the Jerusalem Post. The flyers, thrown on the lawns of several neighborhoods, appeared with a Star of David and a pentagram, a conspiracy-theory symbol, flanking the headline: “EVERY SINGLE ASPECT OF THE COVID AGENDA IS JEWISH.” Under it was a list of names and positions of leaders of the national anti-COVID campaign followed by the tag “Jewish.” Not everyone listed was in fact Jewish.
The content appears identical to flyers that have been distributed in ten states from California to Vermont. The flyers were produced by an unnamed national anti-Semitic hate group, organized in 2020, that has promoted Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic 9/11 theories. Banned from social media, the group’s leader appeared on December 18 in a video challenging his followers to engage in an anti-Semitic flyer campaign over the Christmas holidays. Indeed, if the creators of the flyer had North Carolina origins, the bigots could have found targets closer to home. In our state the public face of COVID-19 prevention has been the director of the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mandy Cohen, who never appears in the media without her chai necklace. At a spring press conference when Governor Cooper urged caution observing Easter, Cohen described her family’s Zoom seder. Her name was not listed on the flyer.
The flyer played on an ancient anti-Semitic trope that associates Jews with disease. In fourteenth-century Europe Jews were blamed for the bubonic plague, the Black Death, and subjected to massacres, a statement from Temple Emanuel noted. “Dirty Jew” is a curse that has echoed for centuries with the implication that Jews are inherently germ-ridden or unsanitary. Jewish ghettos were described as places of filth and disease. “Dirty Jew” was thrown at immigrant Jews even in small-town North Carolina. A Lithuanian immigrant child in Durham recalled how a playmate’s mother would not let her son share a glass with him, fearing contamination. The notion that a secret, insidious Jewish cabal rules the world also has a long history, notably in the czarist forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
This latest expression is hardly a unique case of anti-Semitic propaganda being distributed here. From 1932 to 1941 William Dudley Pelley, the self-styled American Hitler, established his fascist Silver Shirt Legion in Asheville, inundating the town with “scurrilous” hate literature. When E. J. Evans first ran for Durham mayor in 1950 flyers appeared warning, “Do We Want a Goldberg or an Evans? What’s the Difference? They’re All Alike.” Recently, hate propaganda has spiked with flyers appearing on campuses. In April 2019, posters warning of “an evil Jewish plot” were found in a library at UNC-Chapel Hill. According to the Anti-Defamation League anti-Semitic incidents in North Carolina rose from 16 in 2017 to 34 in 2018 to 99 in 2019. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies 40 hate groups in North Carolina.
Until recent times, Jews often divided as whether the best strategy to fight prejudice was to maintain silence so as not to publicize the perpetrators, as the police once recommended, or to go public. Such events were regarded as acts of the lunatic fringe rather than as expressions of community sentiment. When bombs were planted at synagogues in Charlotte, Gastonia, and Wilmington during the civil-rights era, at least one congregation tried a quiet approach while others went public and found allies in the civic and religious communities.
Today Jews are outspoken. The Greensboro Jewish Federation alerted the police. After issuing separate statements, Greensboro’s Federation and two congregations, Temple Emanuel and Beth David Synagogue, issued a joint declaration:
This morning a number of members of the local Jewish community, and others, received a vile piece of antisemitic hatred, delivered with their newspaper. It seeks to spread antisemitic, blatantly false, and evil conspiracies about the Covid-19 virus and our nation’s efforts to combat its spread.
We are not the first community in which this has happened. Our hearts go out to all those who have received this disgraceful propaganda.
Hatred has no place in our community.
We, in the Jewish community and those who align with us, stand against it.
Rabbi Andy Koren, Rabbi Libby Fisher, Amy Epstein, Temple Emanuel
Rabbi Joshua Ben-Gideon, Lewis Weinstock, Beth David Synagogue
Marilyn Forman Chandler, Tom Cone, Greensboro Jewish Federation
Sixth-District Congresswoman Kathy Manning, whose activist career includes serving as board chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, stated that she was “appalled” and urged law enforcement to bring the culprits to justice.
Informed of the incident, Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughn at once issued a statement, asserting “Hate has no place.” The police are investigating.