when anti-Zionism is "never" antisemitism


As antisemitism is once again becoming more and more normalized across the political spectrum, a huge debate is growing over how, exactly, to define antisemitism.

First things first: yes, defining antisemitism is important. If we don’t have a basic framework for what does or does not constitute antisemitism, we cannot successfully implement measures to protect Jews. We cannot appropriately respond to antisemitism if we cannot even explain what antisemitism is or isn’t. In fact, scholars who have dedicated their entire lives to studying how propaganda works have noticed one thing: propagandists keep terms loose or undefined; in other words, vagueness is a telltale sign of propaganda. When concepts are vague or loosely defined, they are essentially rendered meaningless. 

If antisemitism is not defined, the accusation of “antisemitism” means very little or nothing at all. 

Second: this debate surrounding the definition of antisemitism is mostly taking place outside Jewish spaces. The Jewish community overwhelmingly — overwhelmingly! — supports the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism. Every single reputable institution dedicated to the research of antisemitism and/or the Holocaust, such as the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem, and the Shoah Foundation, has endorsed IHRA. 

Though IHRA is so widely supported within the Jewish community, many on the left oppose it, as they believe it stifles criticism of Israel. This is factually untrue: the definition clearly emphatically states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

IHRA, however, does provide examples of so-called “criticism of Israel” that is shrouded in antisemitic tropes, stereotypes, and conspiracies. Antisemites have a problem with this, and this problem is growing increasingly dangerous for Jews.



Antisemitism is notoriously sneaky. Very rarely does it look like an outright, unabashed, overt, Nazi-esque hatred of Jews. Instead, most commonly, it moves and mutates in the shadows, via conspiracies, tropes, and most relevant to this post, euphemisms. 

Historically some of these euphemisms have included the terms such as “globalists,” “rootless cosmopolitans,” “lizard people,” “Christ-killers,” and yes, “Zionists.”

In fact, the earliest non-Jewish opposition to Zionism was unabashedly antisemitic in nature. In the 1870s, antisemites, particularly in Germany, decried the growing political Zionist movement as an element of the supposed Jewish plot for world domination. For example, Wilhelm Marr, the notorious German antisemite who coined the word “antisemitism,” wrote that the First Zionist Congress in 1897 was “a foul Jewish swindle.”



A dogwhistle refers to coded or suggestive language that appears “normal” to the majority of people but is in reality communicating something specific to its intended audience. The term comes from ultrasonic dog whistles, which are inaudible to humans, but audible to dogs. In other words, in the case of antisemitism, a term, phrase, or image might appear inconspicuous to the general population but specifically communicates something antisemitic to its intended audience.

For example, last year, Within Our Lifetime held a pro-Palestine rally in front of the Israeli embassy. Many of the marchers wore red armbands on their upper arms. While these armbands had no symbols, these armbands are a call to the red armbands that Nazi soldiers wore on their upper arms. Similarly, at a recent Berlin concert, Roger Waters also sported the red armband.

Dogwhistles rely on plausible deniability. Because the messages are not explicit, people can later deny sinister or malicious intent. 



Anti-Zionism is opposition to Zionism. 

This post will not delve into the issue of whether anti-Zionism is always antisemitism. I’m sure you know my opinions, but this is not the point of this post. Rather, we are going to discuss how the lines are blurring more and more between the two as antisemitic discourse  becomes more normalized. 

Factually speaking, historically anti-Zionism has manifested, more often than not, in unabashed antisemitism. Numerous countries, such as virtually every nation in the Arab world, Poland, Ethiopia, and the Soviet Union, have expelled or severely oppressed their Jewish populations under the guise of “anti-Zionism.” Whether the Jews in question identified as Zionists or not was irrelevant; they were persecuted all the same.

For example: in 1941, Hitler stated, “Germany supports] an uncompromising struggle against the Jews…[this] would include, of course, opposition to a Jewish homeland in Palestine, which is nothing more than a hub for the destructive influence of Jewish interests.”

In 1956, the Egyptian government  openly proclaimed, “All Jews are Zionists and enemies of the state.” In the 1960s, Soviet propaganda made blatantly antisemitic claims, including: “The character of the Jewish religion serves the political aims of the Zionists,” “Zionism is inextricable from Judaism, rooted in the idea of the exclusiveness of the Jewish People,” and more.

In other words, any student of history, regardless of their position on the political spectrum, should know that historically “Zionist” has been, more often than not, a dogwhistle and a euphemism for “Jew.” 



Today, however, antisemites on the left are revising the narrative.

As antisemitism in leftist discourse grows more and more normalized, any and all derogatory use of the word “Zionist” is excused, under the guise of support for Palestinian human rights. While there is, of course, nothing wrong in supporting Palestinian human rights, antisemitic discourse is becoming encoded in “pro-Palestine” activism, even among people who purport to be progressive. 

Blatantly antisemitic speech — such as Louis Farrakhan claiming that Obama chose “Israel and homosexuals” over the Black community — is celebrated in the name of pro-Palestine activism. The conspiracy that Jews — now replaced with the word “Israel” or “Zionists” — promote homosexuality to deteriorate society goes back to at least the Middle Ages. 

Yet, despite Farrakhan’s blatant antisemitism, such as referring to Jews as “cockroaches,” the activist world seems unable to let go of him. For example, when activist and former co-chair of the Women’s March Linda Sarsour was asked to disavow Farrakhan, she stated that she refused to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Similarly, antisemitism in Arab media is completely overt. But because it’s often (but not always!) coded in euphemisms — generally “Zionist,” such as in 2014, when an Egyptian cabinet member claimed “Zionists” promote homosexuality  — the western left refuses to reckon with the fact that antisemitism is rampant in the Middle East. 

More and more, white supremacists, such as David Duke, are making statements in support of supposedly progressive “anti-Zionists,” such as Ilhan Omar. That should tell you something. The lines between “progressive” anti-Zionist discourse and outright white supremacist antisemitic discourse are blurring, and it’s terrifying. 

Infamous white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke recognizes the antisemitic euphemisms and dogwhistles in the speech of supposedly “progressive” activists and politicians. 

At a “pro-Palestine” rally last year, protesters wore read armbands — a dogwhistle invoking the red armbands worn by the Nazis. 

If you claim to oppose white supremacy, this should worry you. Listen to the Jewish community when we tell you what is or isn’t antisemitic. 



At a recent Berlin concert, Roger Waters, who has long been accused of antisemitism, including by former Pink Floyd band members, put on a display that was obviously, without a doubt, antisemitic. Not only did he put on a Nazi uniform and exploit the memory of Anne Frank for shock value, but he also has a long history of including a flying pig balloon with a Star of David on it, alongside the logos for destructive corporations such as Shell. The message has been heard loud and clear. 

Well…it should’ve been. 

“Progressives” have now tied themselves into knots trying to justify his antics as “pro-Palestine” activism. But there’s nothing “pro-Palestine” about putting a Star of David on a pig.

Even more frightening, Francesca Albanese, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, not only defended Waters, but called him a “champion of human rights and justice” and expressed full solidarity with him. 

Others, such as “pro-Palestine” activist and cartoonist Carlos Latuff, who once placed second in Iran’s International Holocaust Cartoon Competition, rushed to portray the Jewish outrage against Waters as a sinister doing of “Israel,” echoing antisemitic conspiracies of supposed Jewish media and public opinion manipulation. 



The IHRA Working Definition actually never mentions or defines Zionism or anti-Zionism. I wish it did, as definitions are so important, but I also understand why it doesn’t: at this point, regardless of the actual meaning, these terms mean different things to different people. Instead, IHRA focuses on examples of behavior or claims regarding Israel that are rooted in antisemitism. 

As mentioned earlier, anyone with a firm grasp on Jewish history would know that, more often than not, the term “Zionist” has been a euphemism for “Jew.” Take the case of Shafiq Ades, for example, who was hung in 1948 by the Iraqi authorities for the charge of “Zionism.” Except there’s a problem: Ades was openly not a Zionist. He was just Jewish.

Today, however, any and all antisemitism is excused among leftists and progressives so long as the “anti-Zionist” or “pro-Palestine” label is slapped on top of it. Even blatantly white supremacist dogwhistles, like red Nazi armbands, are “activism” if you use the right words to justify it.

The IHRA definition goes in great detail to distinguish which rhetoric actually is dangerous to Jews. But for antisemites, this poses a problem. Remember, antisemitism moves inconspicuously, in the shadows. It behooves antisemites to keep blurring the lines between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism. 

In 2021, 350 scholars, most of them Jewish, drafted the Jerusalem Declaration of antisemitism, in opposition to the IHRA Definition. Among other things, the Jerusalem Declaration significantly softened its stance regarding what is or isn’t antisemitism in relation to Israel. And yet, even that wasn’t good enough: soon after, Al Jazeera published an editorial claiming that the Jerusalem Declaration is “orientalist” and “silences Palestinians.” 

What antisemites want is a get out of jail free card: if you call it “anti-Zionist” or “pro-Palestine,” you can say just about anything. Even if it’s white supremacist. Even if it’s rhetoric that gets Jews killed. 

That’s dangerous. But that isn’t the worst part. The worst part is that the left is buying it. 

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