Iran has used the pandemic to spin some particularly vicious antisemitic propaganda, write the Anti-Defamation League’s Shaya Lerner and David Andrew Weinberg
To date, Iran has had the highest number of reported deaths from the COVID-19 global pandemic out of any country in Asia other than China. While battling this virus, the regime has once again become the number one state sponsor of scapegoating Jewish people, baselessly blaming world Jewry for the disease’s spread.
Indeed, this crisis has led the regime to engage in fantastical, outrageous conspiracy theories about the current pandemic that are deeply infused with antisemitism, including classic tropes. These include claiming the disease is an attack on Iran by using genies and magic, that COVID-19 is part of an external biological attack on Iran by the United States with Jewish and Israeli assistance, and that the virus is part of a Zionist plot to gain global power.
Accusing Jews of Sorcery
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a major annual speech on March 22 in which he emphasized: “Americans are being accused of creating this virus” and even claimed “there are enemies who are genies, and there are enemies who are humans, and they help one another. The intelligence services of many countries cooperate with one another against us.”
The Supreme Leader did not explicitly identify Jews or Israel in this regard, but his own office soon clarified the point. Khamenei’s official website elaborated on his speech, posting remarks from a cleric who explained: “There is no doubt that the Jews and especially the Zionists previously have a long history of supernatural affairs and matters such as a relationship with the devil and genies” and “Israel's spy agencies also undoubtedly take advantage of these matters.”
The official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting then promoted this cleric’s explanation of Khamenei’s speech as well.
The cyberwarfare division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) posted Khamenei’s speech followed by an undated television clip from Iran’s state-run, youth-oriented Channel Three. The clip featured another cleric asserting that “the Jews are experts in sorcery and in creating relationships with demons,” and that “Israel wanted to use demonic force to infiltrate the intelligence systems of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.”
Accusing Jews of Biological Warfare
The regime’s propaganda has also spread the baseless allegation that COVID-19 is the result of a biological attack by outside forces to weaken Iran carried out by the US, Israel, or Zionists and Jews.
For example, Iranian MP Gholamali Jafarzadeh tweeted that the disease’s progression “is not normal, and I believe it is a kind of biological attack by the US and the Zionist regime.”
Similarly, London-based Iran analyst Kasra Aarabi has documented that Iranian state television recently hosted a professor from the IRGC’s medical academy describing COVID-19 as a “biological ethnic weapon” created by “Americans and [the] Zionist regime.”
Other communication sources linked to the IRGC have declared that COVID-19 is a “Zionist biological terrorist attack” and that Israel may have already conducted “twelve bioterrorist attacks against the people of Iran.” Iran’s state-run English-language PressTV explained the Iranian death toll by claiming that "Zionist elements developed [a] deadlier strain of coronavirus against Iran.”
However, most of these conspiracy theories imagine the United States leading such a biological attack, either with the help of Jewish capitalists or Israel, or to benefit Israel or at the behest of Jewish puppet masters.
Another bizarre conspiracy theory in this regard centers on an old medical study at Stanford University that sequenced genomes from individuals of Iranian descent to help calibrate blood thinner dosages.
A medical expert on Iran’s state-run Ofogh TV recently cited this study to try to prove that COVID-19 is an ethnic bioweapon targeting Iranians, asserting that “25,000 of our genes are held by the Americans and Israelis” as a result of “$200,000 donated to the university by a Baha'i foundation.” Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News Agency even suggested that this American research project at Stanford was likely conducted by Baha’is of secret Jewish origin.
Accusing Jews of World Domination
Another central theme of Iranian regime propaganda regarding the global health crisis has been the antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jews are all-powerful or seek world domination.
For example, Tasnim News Agency has been running a series of articles alleging that the virus is part of an American and Jewish plot to gain world domination through population control, including an article claiming this strategy was hatched by “the unique Jewish scholar and American strategist Henry Alfred Kissinger,” who the piece describes as being a master controller of government and international finance to this day.
Another Tasnim article about COVID-19 suggested that the Western world is founded on the immoral principles found in Niccolo Machiavelli’s book The Prince. The article went on to inaccurately argue that the Medici rulers for whom Machiavelli wrote the book were Jewish and even responsible for the modern institution of usurious lending.
Similarly, Iran’s English-language PressTV has recently warned: “Don't be surprised if the recent coronavirus phenomenon has a New World Order fingerprint,” similar to what it called “the Zionist/Neocon false flag events of 9/11/2001” to help a “self-serving psychopathic elite to achieve a one-world government.”
Just as Iran’s fanatical regime is founded on the principle of exporting its revolution abroad, its conspiratorial and antisemitic propaganda about COVID-19 is also encouraged for export.
Iran is now broadcasting the fallacy that COVID-19 is a Jewish and American plot into numerous Western languages, such as in French and English on PressTV, as well as in Spanish on Iran’s HispanTV.
Iranian-backed insurgents in Yemen are now propagating the theory that COVID-19 is a Jewish conspiracy to profit from Muslim deaths and to stop Muslims from going on pilgrimage, antisemitic slanders that semi-official Iranian news outlets are all too happy to rebroadcast as news.
The Iranian people have unfortunately been hit hard by COVID-19, and we can expect the regime to continue blaming Jews, Israel, and America as the current public health crisis transpires. With COVID-19 continuing its deadly spread across the globe, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) will keep exposing this kind of hateful and antisemitic scapegoating wherever it occurs.
Shaya Lerner is ADL’s Associate Director of Middle Eastern Affairs. David Andrew Weinberg is ADL’s Washington Director for International Affairs.