Antisemitism VS Anti-Zionism: What’s The Difference?

Hayley Serpa/Contributing Writer

On July 22, the Hillel at FIU freshmen virtual welcome program was interrupted by a barrage of anti-Israel comments. Users with anonymous names and invisible faces entered the Zoom meeting unwelcomed and began sharing messages like “Free Palestine.” 

Antisemitic acts are on the rise in the United States and worldwide. Just last year, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported 2,100 antisemitic attacks inside the U.S. This is 20% higher than the number of incidents reported the year before in 2018. The year 2020 has not even finished and yet numerous amounts of antisemitic comments have been made by people in the public eye. One of them was when NFL wide receiver DeSean Jackson posted a now-deleted Instagram post in which he quoted Hitler and used antisemitic tropes to show his true feelings towards Jewish peoples. 

Yet, many people still remain unaware of what antisemitism is and how it relates to the states of Israel and Palestine. 

According to the recently published working definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), antisemitism is “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews.” The IHRA later goes on to list some examples of antisemitic acts, of which a few would be the scapegoating of Jewish peoples for real or imagined wrongdoing (think the Dreyfus affair during the Third French Republic), and primarily, the targeting of the state of Israel. 

Not all scholars agree with this definition of antisemitism. Some say that the Zionist state of Israel is attempting to conflate criticism of the actions of Israel with anti-Jewish racism. These are two distinct and mutually exclusive things, with the former being anti-Zionism, not antisemitism. It is crucial to be able to differentiate between these two concepts so as to encourage the correct usage of the terms.   

Anti-Zionism is defined as an opposition to the state of Israel. Israel was established in 1948 after the horrific antisemitic atrocities of World War 2. This period saw a surge in the migration of European Jews escaping the Nazi regime to the British Mandate of Palestine. The Palestinian Exodus, or the nakba (catastrophe), would change the political landscape of the Middle East forever. 

Between 700,000 to 800,000 Palestinians were displaced and forced to leave their homes, migrating to the surrounding countries of Lebanon and Jordan, in order to create space for the numerous waves of incoming Jewish immigrants. 

The aftermath of the initial Palestinian Exodus and the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel in an Arab region are still felt today. There are over 6 million Palestinians currently living in the global diaspora. 

These two definitions, anti-Zionism and antisemitism, are related to each other but still distinct. They can either exist together or separately. However, most people today tend to confuse the two. It is okay to not support the actions of the state of Israel however is not okay to discriminate against Jewish peoples. 

Even amongst Jewish Israelis, opinion is divided when it comes to the Israeli policy regarding the Palestinian territories. It is valid to favor the Palestinian fight for independence and criticize Israel’s policy towards Palestine. 

However, the problem is when antisemitic tropes, myths and symbols are used in the critique of Israel. That is when an anti-Zionist comment, or anti-Israel, is transformed into a racist antisemitic act. Examples of when it crosses the line is the frequent comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany in how it treats the Palestinian people. This is wrong and offensive. 

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is an extremely complicated and many-sided event(s) to understand. You have suffering peoples on both sides who each have the right to self-determination. Being able to know the proper definitions of anti-Zionism and antisemitism and not the skewed and biased definitions we see in the media, helps deepen our own understanding of the ongoing dilemma and act against antisemitic speech and action in our own lives. 

The formal recognition of criticism of the state of Israel as being anti-Zionist and not antisemitic will help us tackle the growing animosity against Jews inside American society.

Featured image by Alisdare Hickson on Flickr.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

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