For some number of years, there has been a debate as to whether to categorize anti-Zionism as antisemitism. While the two can be separated into entirely distinct concepts, the observed evidence would suggest that in its practical application, anti-Zionism is indeed antisemitism.
A strict dictionary definition of Zionism is “the movement for the self-determination and statehood for the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland, the land of Israel.” Following this definition, anti-Zionism would be the opposition to the self-determination and statehood for the Jewish people. Antisemitism is defined as “the discrimination against or prejudice or hostility toward Jews,” without any mention of the State of Israel. On the surface, the two appear to be distinct.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) issued its own definition of antisemitism as follows: “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 of antisemitism was supplement by a series of examples that relate to the State of Israel:
- 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 debate around whether or not anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism is important for academics who seek clear definitions to isolate problems and attempt to solve them. But the debate also has real world implications. For some, it is important to link the two as a protection mechanism, while others claim that linking the two restricts legitimate criticism of the State of Israel.
Some have accepted this definition of antisemitism that links it to anti-Zionism, while others have not. In 2019, President Trump’s executive order on Title VI adopted the IHRA definition, while President Biden did not use the IHRA definition in launching the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.
President Trump’s stance is set to produce a concrete result going forward. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance. It does not cover discrimination based on religion. President Trump included antisemitism in the category of prohibited forms of discrimination, and linked his definition to the examples listed by the IHRA. In this reading, anti-Zionism can be a form of antisemitism. This addition into the executive order will underpin the wave of lawsuits that will be filed in the months and years ahead against many American universities, for their inability to restrain anti-Zionist and antisemitic protests and for their inability to protect their Jewish students.
First in a series of four articles