A Bay Area white supremacist group placed antisemitic flyers on the doorsteps of hundreds of North Berkeley hills residents Feb. 20, blaming the COVID-19 agenda on Jewish communities.
Flyers were thrown from a moving vehicle overnight along Marin Avenue and Grizzly Peak corridor, according to Berkeley Police Department, or BPD, spokesperson Officer Byron White. The attacks were made at random, and the investigation is currently the BPD’s top priority.
“My heart is with the residents who were targeted and exposed to these smears and vitriol,” said City Councilmember Sophie Hahn in an email. “Hate speech like this has no place in our community.”
Berkeley is not the first location hit by this attack, according to City Councilmember Susan Wengraf. These flyers follow the pattern of a small white supremacist group with coordinated attacks across eight U.S. states and several other Bay Area places, including Pacific Heights, Marin County and Palo Alto.
Since no laws were technically broken, the city has limited jurisdiction due to freedom of speech protections, according to Wengraf. She emphasized, however, the city’s no-tolerance policy for discrimination.
One of the Berkeley flyers featured a composite of Jewish and public health officials, both locally and in President Biden’s cabinet, stating “every single aspect of the COVID agenda is Jewish.”
Wengraf described the hate speech as a sign of shrinking tolerance and the opening of old wounds for the Jewish community.
UC Berkeley History and Jewish Studies associate professor Ethan Katz said the conspiracy theory draws from two major critical Jewish stereotypes — disease and power.
Blaming Jewish communities for public health conditions is nothing new, according to Katz. Jewish people were accused of causing the Black Plague in the Middle Ages. They were also feared for their fiscal and political influence, fueling the trope of Jewish people as “puppeteers” manipulating the decisions of public officials.
“There are a lot of factors that make this troubling,” Katz said. “Antisemitism looks different than what people are used to looking at, but it is very much real.”
Katz speculated the “disturbing” hate speech spurred from the extreme political right.
Campus Jewish History professor John Efron said racial categorization frequently restricts Jewish people from being seen as victims of racial discrimination, as they are not seen as white by the extreme right and are not seen as people of color by the left.
“Jewish people do not fit into the current paradigm,” Efron said.
Efron credited the downplay of antisemitism to the long history of discrimination among other racial groups in the U.S. He noted that no community is “immune” to antisemitism, with 51% of religious crimes in the U.S. committed against Jews.
Campus Political Science professor Ron Hassner noted the demoralizing effect of hate speech on Jewish communities. Hassner advised students feeling isolated or helpless to speak with trusted campus Jewish Studies professors and advisors, as well as the off-campus Hillel International Jewish Center and Chabad House.
Katz added that hate speech reinforce people’s sense of fear and create daily vulnerabilities. He encourages non-Jewish neighbors to vocalize their support for the community.
“From antisemitism to incidents targeting minority communities, a crime against one of us is a crime against all of us,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín in an email. “Berkeley will never tolerate hate in any form whatsoever.”
Berkeley civilians can participate in the BPD’s “United Against Hate” campaign by placing a poster in their yard or windows affirming their solidarity with Jewish communities. Flyers are currently available for pickup at all Berkeley Fire Department stations.
A previous version of this article incorrectly said a hate crime took place in the Berkeley Hills. In fact, hate speech was reported in the Berkeley Hills.