ANTISEMITISM - What is (and isn't it?)

Jews make up .02% of the world's population and they are a minority in every country in the world except Israel.  As an ethno-religious minority that is the world's oldest monotheistic religion, Jew have been subject to persecution for over 4,000 years.

Definitions of Antisemitism

Each community has the right to define how it experiences discrimination. While the law may ban discrimination, the experience of it is more of a guideline as it can and should be discussed and rebutted within the community experiencing it.  The broadest definition of Antisemitism comes from the the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, which itself is derived from (and mostly the same as) the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia's definition.

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The IHRA Definition and it's "Examples of Contemporary Antisemitism" (neither of which are not legally binding) has been adopted by the European Union, over 31 countries (including Germany, Canada and the U.S. Department of State and Education), several religious groups (including the Global Imams Council) and numerous universities (including UCLA, UCSD, UCSB, Cal State Long Beach, Long Beach City College and Foothill College).

The Anti Defamation League, which is a leading US authority on Antisemitism, defines it as:

The belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. It may take the form of religious teachings that proclaim the inferiority of Jews, for instance, or political efforts to isolate, oppress, or otherwise injure them. It may also include prejudiced or stereotyped views about Jews.

There is also a Nexus Task Force Definition of Antisemitism out of the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication, which while similar to IHRA places greater emphasis on the context of the comments and the motivation of the commenters, particularly with respect to Zionism, but still recognizes that Jews should have a right to self-determination as others do (which is what Zionism is) and that comparing Jews or Israel to Nazism is inappropriate.   More recently a group of scholars and journalists who have been strongly critical of Israel and/or rejected Zionism, proposed their own definition of Antisemitism under the "Jerusalem Declaration," the key difference in stating that criticisms of Zionism and Israels' right to exist (mirroring their own criticisms) are not by default Antisemitic, and rather than focusing on the right to self-determination, they focus on the right of Jews to "flourish" and do not discuss the use of Nazi metaphors or symbols except in referring directly to Nazis themselves.  

A number of organizations focus on fighting Anti-Semitism, notably the Anti Defamation League and American Jewish Committee.

Forms of Antisemitism

Each of these definitions still have a number of terms in common some of which are also detailed on the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission public campaigns website.  For a broader historical context to Antisemitism, the ADL has an excellent guide.

Classic Antisemitism.  Blaming Jews for the crucifixion of Christ, claiming Jews drink the blood of children, poison wells or are associated with the Devil.

Power Antisemitism. Claiming Jews or a group of Jews (or Jewish families) have too much power or wield outsized influence or have divided loyalties because they are Jewish.

Revivalist Antisemitism.  Saying Jews are insects or inherently evil or responsible for all the problems of the world. 

Jewish Stereotypes: False, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective—especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions or claiming Jews all have money or power or are cheap or conniving.

Holocaust Denial and Nazi Imagery -  Claiming the Holocaust did not happen, was inflated or using Nazi imagery to glorify Nazis or equate Jewish conduct to Nazi conduct, or claiming that Jews caused the Holocaust , brought it on themselves or conspired with Nazis to create it.

Collective Antisemitism. Saying Jews are as a group responsible for the acts of Jewish individuals, Israel or all other Jews or "band together" to protect each other.

Slander: Speech or writing that is slanderous or libelous of Jews as a group, the Jewish religion, or individuals because they are Jewish

Extremist Ideology; Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion, claiming Jews and their behavior merit persecution.

Racism and Antisemitism:  As with all other People of Color, Jews of Color can be both the targets of classical racism and white supremacy and Antisemitism as well.  Combined identities are not license for others to demand they make a choice as to who they are between identities.

Other types of Antisemitism may include deliberately disregarding major Jewish holidays or purposefully scheduling events or meetings on key dates to discourage Jews from attending (or trying to find ways to discourage Jews from attending or participating in a manner that others are entitled to).  If you are holding an event that is intended to be a balanced or inclusive discussion on issues of interest to the Jewish community,  inviting mainstream panelists is recommended.

One should also be very careful about using Nazi imagery in connection with Jews or Jewish causes, it is generally considered Antisemitic if not incredibly insensitive.

Antisemitic acts under the law can include but are not limited to:

  • Targeting Jewish institutions or Jews
  • Creating a hostile environment for Jews
  • Discriminating against Jews solely because of their religion
  • Threats of violence, including threats conveyed with the use of symbol such as swastikas
  • Inflicting bodily injury
  • Physical intimidation
  • Damaging or vandalizing property in any form
  • Death resulting from bodily injury
  • Mental incapacitation resulting from bodily injury
  • Physical incapacitation resulting from bodily injury

Is Anti-Zionism Anti-Semitism?

Just as criticism of the Israeli government or leaders is not necessarily Antisemitism, criticism of branches of Zionism is also not necessarily Antisemitism, but it is worth noting that just as painting with a broad brush all of Israel or all Jews is inappropriate, so too is oversimplifying Zionism.   To paraphrase Alma Magazine - a feminist Jewish culture site, what most Jews consider the definition of Zionism today — can be simply defined as the belief that the State of Israel has a right to exist, that Jews have the right to self-determination in a homeland.  Zionism in itself does not require that self-determination be in a form that excludes the rights of others.

There are forms of Zionism that have been inclusive of civil liberties for all based on a model of other countries that prioritize democracy and have state religions and civil rights for all like England, Switzerland, Greece and Argentina, such as Labor/Socialist Zionism, Reform/Progressive Zionism and American Zionism.  There are also forms of Zionism that are exclusionary and prioritize nationalism and Jewish identity over democracy, such as Religious Zionism, Revisionist/Nationalist Zionism and Christian Zionism.  This second, more nationalistic form of Zionism is what the Conservative Right (and Israeli Right) and the Anti-Zionist left prefer to Zionism as being, but it isn't so.  Have a look at our Resource on Israel and Zionism for more complete history and discussion.

The Jews for Racial and Economic Justice point out in their 2017. "Understanding Anti-Semitism" guide:"

"It is also important to understand that for many Jews past and present, Zionism has not been seen as a colonialist project but as the right for Jews to have a physical place of self-determined safety. For many Jews, the State of Israel has felt like the only thing standing between them and another Holocaust. This fear, rooted in very recent historical trauma, is why grounded and valid protests against Israeli government policy or Zionism are sometimes heard by Jews as threats to the safety of the Jewish people as a whole. Actual violence against Jews or other antisemitic acts in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, and around the globe only compound these fears and further a tragic dynamic."

As JFREJ states, criticizing oppression in itself is not Antisemitism and calling out Jewish individuals, the Israel government, leaders or specific ideological approaches for breaching international law or democratic norms appropriate the circumstances is not Antisemitism (just be prepared to argue facts), but we note that it can be Antisemitism if it is stated in a way that seeks to hold all Jews or all of Zionism responsible for the acts of those subgroups practicing such oppression or hateful acts.  If you feel that all national movements are problematic, and Zionism is amongst them, that's a fair point for discussion, but be aware of using terms that if you substituted "Zionist" for "Jews" would sound Antisemitic.

One should also avoid using traditional Antisemitic tropes and substituting "Zionists" for Jews such as saying Zionists control the media or influence due to money or finance. 

Israel and Antisemitism

U.S. Jews are emotionally attached to Israel both because of the reasons above, and because of the historical places listed in the Old Testament.  So for many, when you mention Zionism in a broad brush fashion, they think you are discussing Jews.

As Reverend Martin Luther King said in 1967, "When people criticize, Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!

That is not to say that Israel is perfect or above criticism - criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.

Under the IRHA Working Definition of Antisemitism's working examples, the following may be problematic either because of inappropriate references or because it would deny Jews rights that others have:

  • Manifestations that include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

 Suggestions for Criticism on Israel

It is always appropriate to call out oppression and injustice based on fact and the law (as opposed to slogans).

Calling out individuals or governments for oppressive acts especially that which violates normative standards or international law is not in itself Antisemitism, but the focus should be on the individuals, the government of the country or the parties and leaders.  If you are an American, you are no more responsible for Donald Trump, the rise of white nationalism and the Republican Party than Israelis or Jews are for the current government or the Kahanists.  If you are going to talk about Zionism outside of general context of other national movements, it is better to focus on the specific branch of Zionism and not use broad-brush references.

There are groups out there that are very Progressive and are critical of the Jewish community and Israel, but in calling for accountability, avoid violating the above guidelines, many are silent on Zionism others still support a two state solution are consider themselves Zionist, (Americans for Americans for Peace Now, T'ruah, J-Street and New Israel Fund fall into one of these two categories) and may be good guides to follow on how to criticize Israel.  If the organization touts itself as "Anti-Zionist" it probably is not in this category.

Everyone is entitled to their feelings on injustice and ending suffering, but with any conflict involving 4,000-plus years of history, it is bound to be complicated.  The more you learn from the Jewish community and others (not just those that agree with you), the more you are likely have a better understanding of how we got to where we are today and what change is both possible and necessary to achieve justice and equality.  We recommend reading Alma Magazine's primer on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Jews for Economic Reform and Justice's "Understanding Antisemitism" guide (for a more traditional Left perspective) and the ADL's modern guide on Antisemitism.

    Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software