Antisemitism is often called “the world’s oldest hatred.” Ever since the enslavement of the Hebrews in Egypt, the Jewish people have suffered horrendous persecution, including the Crusades in the Middle Ages, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust. In recent years, antisemitism has once again been on the rise. Antisemitic slurs have appeared on college campuses. Tragedies such as the 2015 antisemitic attacks in a kosher supermarket in Paris, the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical publication in France that same year, and the October 2018 shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh have grown more frequent. In 2019, there was the April shooting of the Chabad synagogue of Poway, California, and we saw an uptick of antisemitic attacks in New York and the tri-state area, mostly clustered around Hanukkah. These attacks included a Jersey City kosher supermarket shooting, and the Monsey stabbing attack.
Indeed, many factors contribute to the rise of antisemitism both in the United States and worldwide. There are whole courses devoted to the study of the origins of antisemitism and why it persists despite advancements in the modern world and seeing the consequences of antisemitic hate in the senseless murder of approximately six million Jewish men, women, and children in the Holocaust.
Today, we see a new brand of antisemitism, but antisemitism nonetheless—under the guise of anti-Zionism and anti-Israel sentiment. While not all anti-Zionism is antisemitism, there are a few vital benchmarks to consider when determining whether to regard anti-Zionism as antisemitic.
Anti-Zionism can sometimes be antisemitic, notably when those opposed to the State of Israel support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement and groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, which harass and persecute Israeli speakers on university campuses across America and around the globe.
However, some Christians do not interpret the Bible as teaching that the land of Israel ultimately belongs to the Jewish people. This misinterpretation is unfortunate but should not necessarily be equated with antisemitism.
When criticism of Israel specifically leads to hateful language and actions directed toward Israelis, and Jewish people in general, then a line is crossed. This personalization is when anti-Zionism becomes antisemitism!
The Anti-Defamation League defines this sort of anti-Zionism as “a prejudice against the Jewish movement for self-determination and the right of the Jewish people to a homeland in the State of Israel.” Anti-Zionism of this nature masquerades as a political position, claiming to legitimately criticize the State of Israel for its policies regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but often ends up using the same antisemitic tropes of old.
Of course, one can legitimately critique the State of Israel. It is an imperfect nation run by imperfect human beings. There is nothing wrong with honest and healthy debate about policy. However, there are ways to determine if criticism of Israel is legitimate or not. Natan Sharansky, the former Israeli Minister for Diaspora Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, created what he calls the “3D test for antisemitism.” The three Ds are:
- Double standards
The three Ds, says Sharansky, “are the three main tools that antisemites employed against Jews throughout history.”
Demonization is characterized by the use of classic antisemitic rhetoric, such as the blood libel, and of antisemitic caricatures in general discourse regarding Israel. For example, anti-Israel activist Ali Abunimah claimed that Israel poisons Palestinians in the West Bank by “moving unregulated chemical industries” to the West Bank, and have made “95 percent of Gaza’s water unfit to drink.” These unfounded claims are reminiscent of the Middle Ages’ blood libel when Jewish people in Europe were accused of poisoning wells and were blamed for the Black Plague. By falsely accusing Israel of poisoning Palestinians, anti-Israel activists perpetuate classic antisemitic lies.
Delegitimization is when the right of the State of Israel to exist as a country is denied and undermined. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement, for example, is led by Palestinian activists and seeks to delegitimize Israel through enforcing the (false) ideas that Israel is “occupying and colonizing Palestinian land,” and is engaged in apartheid against the Palestinians. The BDS movement encourages institutions like universities and churches to boycott Israeli goods and divest (withdraw investments) from Israeli companies, and further calls for national entities to ban trade with Israel, among many other actions the organization believes are necessary. By encouraging the boycott, divestment, and sanction of Israel, the BDS movement undermines Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign entity and participant in the global economy and community.
Double standards are standards to which Israel, as a nation alone, are held, while they are not applied equally to other countries. A pertinent example of the employment of double standards against Israel is the sheer number of resolutions made against the nation by the United Nations. In 2019, the United Nations General Assembly made eighteen resolutions against Israel. North Korea, Syria, and Iran had one decision made against them, while countries like China, Venezuela, and Lebanon had no judgments against them. The United Nations tends to condemn Israel as a significant human rights violator while simultaneously failing to condemn the countries that genuinely do violate human rights. By doing so, the United Nations employs double standards.
Although the anti-Zionist or anti-Israel movement claims to focus on criticizing Israeli policy, its activists often use antisemitic tactics to further their cause. It is easy to see, then, how anti-Zionism perpetuates the growing antisemitic rhetoric and violence in the United States and around the world. The church, being made up of imperfect people, is not immune to antisemitism. Some of this is due to anti-Jewish interpretations of Scripture, based on lack of proper seminary training that does not emphasize the Jewish origins of the Christian faith or provide Jewish context to problematic Scriptures that have been historically posited as antisemitic. As believers in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, we must be aware of and call out antisemitism in all of its forms.