how not to respond to antisemitism

NOT ALL JEWS ARE ZIONISTS

“Don’t be antisemitic because not all Jews are Zionists!” is perhaps one of the most infuriating things we hear in response to antisemitism for several reasons: 

(1) you shouldn’t be antisemitic because Jewish People are human beings, just as you shouldn’t be islamophobic because Muslims are human beings, regardless of their politics or stances on whatever issue. 

(2) Zionism is a 2000+ year old Jewish movement that is not for non-Jewish People to define. In fact, the term itself comes from an event that happened in the 500s BCE, long before there was such thing as Palestinians or Israelis (the “Return to Zion”). 

(3) dozens of studies (Pew, Mellman Group, J-Street, among others) have concluded that 89-97% of Jewish People identify as Zionists — that is, they believe in Jewish self-determination. Self-determination is a basic tenet of international law. If you only support Jewish People who are not Zionists, that means you do not support 89-97% of Jews. 

 

I CAN'T BELIEVE IT

If you “can’t believe” antisemitism is still an issue, you haven’t been paying attention to Jewish People. Antisemitism never went away, nor did it start or end with the Holocaust.

Antisemitism is a 3000-year-old virus that mutates to adapt to whatever society it’s in (see my post ANTISEMITISM: THE VIRUS THAT MUTATES). It’s cyclical, surging during times of unrest — like right now. It exists everywhere in the political spectrum because it long predates modern politics. It’s also one of the two foundational blocks of white supremacy, the other being anti-Black racism. 

Saying “I can’t believe it” is offensive because that means you haven’t been listening to us. We’ve been asking for your allyship and you’ve been looking the other way. 

 

WHAT ABOUT PALESTINE?

Palestinians, like any other marginalised minority, are deserving of support and allyship. 

That said, so are Jewish People. Derailing conversations or accusations of antisemitism by saying “what about Palestine?” is not only a deflection, but is also problematic for several reasons:

(1) antisemitism is a 3000-year-old bigotry that long predates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

(2) Palestinians, like anyone else, are not above perpetuating antisemitism. Antisemitism has existed among Palestinians long before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 (there are documented massacres of Jews in the 1500s, early 1800s, and all the way up to 1948). 

(3) conflating Jewish People with the actions of the Israeli government is an antisemitic double standard. 

 

X ARE SEMITES TOO!

A common deflection we often hear when a person is called out for antisemitism (particularly left-wing antisemitism) is “Arabs/Palestinians are Semites too” or “Jews/Israelis are antisemitic to Palestinians.” While it’s true that Arabs also speak a Semitic language, this derailment is extremely problematic for several reasons:

(1) the term “antisemitism” was coined in the late 1800s SPECIFICALLY to describe bigotry toward Jewish People and to “validate” such bigotry, as “antisemitism” sounded more scientific than the previously used term “Jew-hatred.”

(2) while there is such thing as “Semitic languages” the racial category “Semites” is pseudoscientific and rooted in white supremacy. There is no such thing as a “Semitic” race or ethnicity. 

 

PUNCH A NAZI!

Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, “punch a Nazi!” has become somewhat of a rallying call among leftists. And yet, four years later, American Jews are more vulnerable to antisemitic violence than four years ago, not just from the right, but also from the left. 

So let’s make this clear: today AND historically, hatred of Nazis is not the same thing as support for Jews. 

In fact, at this point, the phrase is just triggering to some of us. Please don’t use it. Not to mention that Nazis are far from the only group to violently attack Jewish People. Antisemitic violence exists everywhere in the political spectrum. 

 

JEWS CRY ANTISEMITISM

Believing that Jews are not oppressed — or “no longer” oppressed — is textbook antisemitism. Antisemitic tropes dating back millennia paint Jewish People as rich and powerful, and as a person living in our world, it’s impossible that you haven’t internalised at least some antisemitic biases (yes, even if you’re Jewish!). 

Additionally, antisemitic stereotypes often characterise Jewish People as loud and whiny, which is likely another reason you might imagine that Jewish People exaggerate.

Antisemitism in the United States (and worldwide) is no exaggeration but a literal reality. For example, though Jews are only 2% of the US population, we are the victims of 62% of all religious hate crimes and 15% of ALL hate crimes (including anti-Black, LGBTQ, etc). 

 

HOLOCAUST COMPARISONS 

The Holocaust is not a barometer for injustice. It was a genocide that decimated over one-third of the worldwide Jewish population in the span of only six years. To this day, the total Jewish population has yet to recover. Holocaust survivors are still alive and they and their families carry serious intergenerational trauma.

Comparing every current event to the Holocaust is triggering to Jewish People, deflects from the current issue, and cheapens it by using it as a measuring tool, rather than giving it the respect it deserves as a horrendous event in history that haunts Jewish memory. 

Finally, Hitler was neither the first nor the last person to persecute Jews, and the Holocaust was neither the first nor the last genocide inflicted on the Jewish People. Holocaust comparisons are completely inappropriate and are not a way to show solidarity to the Jewish People.