Donna Rachel Edmunds, Rossella Tercatin
One in five English people believe COVID is a Jewish conspiracy – survey
Preliminary data shows many Britons believe Jews created the coronavirus. This is a developing story.
One in five English people believe that Jews created COVID-19 to collapse the economy for financial gain, a newly-released study by a team of researchers at the University of Oxford has revealed.
The finding came as part of a wider survey in attitudes toward the virus and the measures taken to prevent its spread, which found that there was a strong undercurrent of mistrust over official advice on the virus within the public.
“Increasingly as the lockdown has gone on the signs of conspiracy beliefs forming has become greater,” study leader Daniel Freeman told The Jerusalem Post. “In the UK there has even been the setting fire of mobile phone masks linked to a particular coronavirus conspiracy belief. We were most interested to see if the conspiracy beliefs led to people disregarding the important public health measures to reduce the epidemic.”
A professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford, Freeman is also a consultant clinical psychologist at the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.
The Oxford Coronavirus Explanations, Attitudes, and Narratives Survey (OCEANS), was published in the journal Psychological Medicine on Friday. It surveyed 2,500 adults who were representative of the English population according to age, gender, region and income, on their attitudes toward the government narrative on coronavirus and related conspiracy theories between May 4 and May 11.
As explained in the paper, the respondents were asked to what extent they agreed with 48 conspiracy statements. Covering topics such as general conspiracy theories about the origin and the spread of the virus and the government’s response, the statements were crafted looking at both mainstream and alternative sites.
Presented with the statement “Jews have created the virus to collapse the economy for financial gain,” 5.3% of the interviewees “agreed a little,” 6.8% “agreed moderately,” 4.6% “agreed a lot,” and 2.4% “agreed completely,” while some 80.8% did not agree with it at all.
Similar figures were recorded for conspiracy theories involving other groups: while 80.1% of respondents did not agree with the statement “Muslims are spreading the virus as an attack on Western values,” 19.9% did to some extent, including 2.4% who agreed completely.
More than a quarter of respondents thought that “celebrities are being paid to say that they have coronavirus,” and that politicians, for example the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, “have faked having coronavirus.” Nearly half (45.4%) believed to some extent that “coronavirus is a bio-weapon developed by China to destroy the West.”
“The conspiracy beliefs varied hugely in content, often contradicting each other, but if a person believed one idea they were more likely to endorse others,” Freeman highlighted. “If a person blamed Jews, they were also more likely to blame Muslims, Bill Gates and pharmaceutical companies too. What we are observing is most likely a conspiracy mentality: a way of seeing the world that is marked by antipathy to official or mainstream accounts or to those in higher status positions.”
The researchers also found that those who endorse conspiracy theories also reported a lower adherence to the authorities’ guidelines to contain the virus outbreak.
Regarding their demographic features, they tended to be associated with “higher levels of religiosity” and a “slightly more right wing political orientation,” as explained in the paper.
“Coronavirus conspiracy beliefs are more likely to be held in the young, those who feel marginalized, and those at the extremes of political belief,” the professor said. “Coronavirus conspiracy beliefs were also more likely in those who already believed other conspiracy theories such as that climate change is a hoax or that vaccination data are fabricated.”
“Individuals who obtained most of their information about coronavirus from the BBC had lower levels of coronavirus conspiracy thinking. Conspiracy beliefs were more likely in those who obtained their coronavirus information from friends, social media and YouTube,” he added.
The survey comes shortly after NGO Hope Not Hate published a similar survey of their own, conducted between February and April 2020, which found that 13% of Britons believe that Jews have “undue control of banks,” while a substantial 38% said they “couldn’t say for sure” or “didn’t know.”
Moreover, at the beginning of April, the Community Security Trust, an organization that works to ensure the physical protection of British Jews and monitors antisemitic episodes and discourse, produced a report dedicated to “Coronavirus and the plague of antisemitism,” featuring several examples of threats or accusations against Jews related to the pandemic that have appeared online.
“The findings [of our study] are truly concerning. Rates of coronavirus conspiracy beliefs were higher than we anticipated. Only half of the population appear completely unaffected by such ideas. Highly disturbing ideas were endorsed by a significant minority,” Freeman told the Post.
“It looks like a fracture in society is exposed, just as we need a collective response to combat the virus. The coronavirus conspiracy theories appear to have built on long-standing prejudices and distorted ideas. Mistrust appears to have gone mainstream,” the professor added, highlighting that the fact that conspiracy ideas, including those about Jews, were most likely to be held by young people, which is also a worrisome element.
The scientists will conduct further research on the topic.
“We are planning to take this work forward, in particular finding out the best ways to reduce the coronavirus conspiracy beliefs and make accurate information more effective,” Freeman concluded. “That needs to be against a wider backdrop of building up trust again in our important institutions and reducing the sense for too many people that they are in the margins. In this way, when an individual sees a conspiracy theory they may be more likely to step back and evaluate it correctly.”
“Antisemitism is not about to disappear from the world, especially from Europe,” the JNF-UK Chairman Samuel Hayek commented in a statement to the Post. “Antisemitism is deeply rooted in Britain and England. Every situation like the corona pandemic reinforces antisemites in their basic view that Jews are guilty of all the troubles in the world. Therefore, I’m not surprised that with the outbreak, antisemitism is growing.”
“The Jewish community in Britain, and in all Europe, needs to understand that antisemitism will only intensify as a result of the deep demographic change that the continent is undergoing. Therefore, they must realize that the only viable and safe alternative is to immigrate to Israel,” he added.