Antisemitism is a term that refers to hostility, prejudice, or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group. It can take many forms, such as verbal abuse, physical attacks, vandalism, graffiti, hate speech, conspiracy theories, stereotypes, or exclusion from social or political life. Antisemitism is a form of racism and a violation of human rights.
However, not every criticism or disagreement with Jews or Judaism is necessarily antisemitic. There are legitimate ways to express different opinions or perspectives on Jewish issues, culture, history, or religion, without resorting to hatred or bigotry. Likewise, not every criticism or opposition to the state of Israel or its policies is automatically antisemitic, as long as it is based on factual evidence and does not deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.
The challenge is to distinguish between legitimate criticism and antisemitic hatred, especially in the context of the complex and controversial Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is no universally accepted definition of antisemitism, but there are some guidelines and examples that can help to identify and combat it.
International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)
One of the most widely used definitions of antisemitism is the one adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016, which states that:
"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 also provides 11 examples of antisemitism, some of which relate to Israel, such as:
- 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.
The IHRA definition has been endorsed by many countries, organizations, and institutions, including the UK government, the US State Department, the European Parliament, and the UN Secretary-General. However, it has also been criticized by some scholars, activists, and human rights groups, who argue that it is vague, broad, and potentially stifling of free speech and legitimate criticism of Israel.
Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA)
In response to these criticisms, an alternative definition of antisemitism was proposed by a group of more than 350 scholars of antisemitism, Holocaust studies, and Jewish studies, who drafted the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) in 2021. The JDA states that:
"Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish)."
The JDA also provides 15 guidelines to illustrate what is and what is not antisemitic, some of which differ from the IHRA examples, such as:
- It is not antisemitic to support arrangements that accord full equality to all inhabitants “between the river and the sea,” whether in two states, a binational state, unitary democratic state, federal state, or in whatever form.
- It is not antisemitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid.
- Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states. In the Israeli case they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.
The JDA aims to provide a more nuanced and balanced definition of antisemitism, that protects both Jews and Palestinians from discrimination and violence, and that respects the right to freedom of expression and academic freedom. However, it has also been challenged by some Jewish organizations and leaders, who claim that it dilutes the meaning of antisemitism and undermines the IHRA definition.
Both the IHRA and the JDA definitions have their strengths and weaknesses, and neither of them is perfect or comprehensive. The most important thing is to use them as tools, not as weapons, to educate, raise awareness, and combat antisemitism in all its forms, while also respecting the rights and dignity of all people, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, or nationality.
Examples of what counts as Antisemitism
Denying the Holocaust: This is the most extreme form of antisemitism. It involves denying that the Holocaust ever happened or downplaying its significance.
Using anti-Jewish slurs: This includes using derogatory terms to describe Jewish people or making jokes about the Holocaust.
Promoting conspiracy theories: This includes spreading false information about Jewish people, such as the idea that they control the world’s banks or media.
Holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the state of Israel: This is a form of antisemitism that is often used to justify violence against Jewish people.
Using the blood libel: This is a medieval myth that Jewish people use the blood of Christian children in their religious rituals.
Examples of what doesn't count as Antisemitism
Criticism of the state of Israel: Criticizing the policies of the Israeli government is not antisemitic. However, when criticism of Israel crosses the line into demonization or delegitimization of the state of Israel, it can become antisemitic.
Supporting Palestinian rights: Supporting the rights of the Palestinian people is not antisemitic. However, when this support crosses the line into demonization or delegitimization of the state of Israel, it can become antisemitic.
Debating the Holocaust: Debating the details of the Holocaust is not antisemitic. However, denying that it ever happened or downplaying its significance is.
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(2) A definition of antisemitism - GOV.UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/a-definition-of-antisemitism.
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