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Antisemitism and anti-Zionism

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What is antisemitism?

Antisemitism is the marginalization and oppression of people who are Jewish, based on the belief in stereotypes, myths and disinformation about Jewish people, Judaism and Israel. Parallel to all systems of oppression, antisemitism manifests as the dehumanization or exploitation of, or discrimination or violence against, Jewish people.

Antisemitism sometimes targets Jews not as individuals but as a collective — whether that’s Jewish organizations, or movements like Zionism or the Jewish State of Israel.

What is anti-Zionism?

Zionism is the movement for self-determination and statehood of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland, the land of Israel.

By contrast, anti-Zionism rejects Israel as a legitimate member of the community of nations and denies the right for Jews to self-determination and to establish a state in the land of Israel.

Anti-Zionism is often expressed, explicitly or implicitly, in the rejection of the status of the Jewish people as a nation and the denial of the Jewish right to self-determination; the vilification and ostracization of individuals and groups associated with Zionism; and the downplaying or negation of the historic and spiritual Jewish connection to the land of Israel.

Anti-Zionism is distinct from criticism of the policies or actions of the government of Israel, or critiques of specific policies of the pre-state Zionist movement, in that it attacks the foundational legitimacy of Jewish self-determination and statehood.

Anti-Zionism is antisemitic, in intent or effect, as it invokes anti-Jewish tropes; is used to disenfranchise, demonize, disparage, or punish all Jews and/or those who feel a connection to Israel; exploits Jewish trauma by invoking the Holocaust in order to position Jews as akin to Nazis; or renders Jews less worthy of nationhood and self-determination than other peoples.

What is anti-Israel bias?

Anti-Israel bias is inaccurate, inordinate or hyperbolic criticism of Israel. It can take various forms, including false and vilifying accusations directed against Israel, often with the aim of delegitimizing the State of Israel.

Anti-Israel bias is distinct from criticism of the Israeli government, its policies and actions or its leaders.

Is criticism of Israel antisemitic?

Generally, no. There is a wide range of views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and vigorous debate and activism on this complex situation is an important component of public discourse and the free exchange of ideas. Israel is a country like any other, with policies that range from laudable to condemnable. We don’t all need to agree on any given policy of the Israeli government, nor any critique.

At the same time, certain forms of criticism of Israel clearly cross over into antisemitism.

Examples of when such critiques cross into antisemitism include when they ostracize and vilify Zionists and Zionism (the movement for Jewish self-determination and statehood), utilize anti-Jewish tropes, hold all Jews responsible for Israel’s actions, or utilize traditional antisemitic imagery or comparisons to Nazis. 

At times, harsh rhetoric related to Israel can create environments in which some Jews feel unsafe, and can even embolden acts and expressions of antisemitism.

This was evident, for example, in May 2021, when tensions related to the Israel-Hamas conflict resulted in a spike in antisemitic incidents directed at American Jews. During that period, there were several documented incidents in which Jews and Jewish institutions were attacked and targeted by individuals and groups who were chanting anti-Israel slogans and/or engaged in protests against the Jewish state.