What is Antisemitism?

Antisemitism this, Antisemitism that. I am not being facetious, but it has been in the news a lot recently here in the UK. Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, and the Left have been criticised for antisemitism. Now, this isn’t a defence on the leadership of the Labour Party, this is an informative post. Mostly.

As of the 4th of September, The Labour Party ended a few weeks of media attacks when the NEC voted to formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of Antisemitism. This comes after recent reforms to Labour’s code of conduct added a diet coke caffeine free version, where a few of the working examples were removed, changed, or otherwise altered to better reflect the party’s position on Israel. This, naturally, angered a lot of people.

Couple this with alleged attacks on Jewish people within media, the Labour party, and other organisations, a lot of people have been calling each other out, facing off with Israeli and Palestinian flags, and generally making each side look like self-righteous assholes. Yes, I said both sides. Eventually, the IHRA definition was adopted by Labour, after being made an ass of by [insert your choice here]. And it looks to have made a big impact.

Currently, NUS members are passing around a petition to oust one of their NEC members for comparing Israel’s domestic policies to the Nazis. The Liberal Democrats adopted the full definition this week, to no fanfare.

What is the IHRA definition of Antisemitism?

The definition agreed on in the IHRA Plenary, which took place in Budapest in 2016, states:

“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.”
Source: IHRA

This definition comes with a lot of working examples in regards to what antisemitism is and isn’t. I won’t put them all on here, as the link on this post will take you to the website, though the stuff you expect to be there is there, such as, Holocaust denial, Israel/Nazi comparisons, any and all Jewish conspiracy crap like the Rothschilds, et al. Common-sense stuff really.
Detractors of the definition believe that this definition restricts the freedom of criticism against the state of Israel, particularly over the treatment of Palestinians, which some claim is comparable to the Nazis and the Holocaust. That by adopting this definition, you cannot criticise Israel. Which leads me on to my next section…

Are Israelis Nazis?

Unequivably, no.

Why are some people angry about Israel then?

To answer that question properly would take a long time, a lot of research, and a very multifaceted approach. It’s not simple, is what I am saying. I studied it as part of my History course, and it is a lot of history to get through. I am going to say a little about a lot here…
Basically, when we won the First World War, The British Empire acquired a mandate over chunks of the former Ottoman Empire, which they split with France in 1922 (the split called the Sykes-Picot line, after the men that negotiated the line). We had a mandate over Palestine, which eventually became home to various Jewish families, accumulated over 20+ years, due to things such as The Balfour declaration; which declared Palestine as a homeland for the Jews, Zionist Jews who believe that Palestine is the holy land which was described in the Bible’s Old Testament, and refugees from pre-WW2 and thereafter. Eventually, Britain got bored and broke, ended the mandate, America was there, and Israel was born in 1948. Incidentally, the same year as my Grandad Attwood.
SOURCE: Google
UN Partition of Palestine 1947

The other, more obvious reason for the anger of some people over Israel is the mistreatment of Palestinians. As Israel became home to more Jewish people, Palestinians became a minority. As we all know, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering. Throughout a good chunk of the 20th and 21st centuries, skirmishes and wars have occurred between Israelis and Palestinians within Israel. These skirmishes occur due to the very real Israeli development on designated Palestinian territory, which has caused Palestinian settlements to become scattered. The majority of the international community (including the UN General Assembly, the United Nations Security Council, the European Union, the International Criminal Court, and the vast majority of human rights organizations) considers Israel to be occupying Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, though this is disputed by Israel and its supporters.

Why do some people call the Israelis Nazis?

If you’ve watched the news and heard the headline ‘violence on the Gaza strip’ then this is part of the reason that some people call Israelis Nazis. The Gaza strip is an area of Palestine which is considered occupied territory, as discussed in the previous section. The comparisons to Nazism have been going on since the 60’s, its nothing new. The Soviet Union compared Israel’s actions to the Nazis in 1967 as a response to the 6-day war, and in 2018, Turkey’s President Erdogan also used similar language in describing Israel.

People compare the actions of Israel in regards to the treatment of Palestinians, as being like that of the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews during the 1930’s and 1940’s. A lot of Jewish and Palestinian blood has flowed through the rivers of Israel.

How have people responded to these critiques?

Comparing Israel to the Nazis has been, understandingly and rightfully, condemned by a number of organisations and figures, including myself. Some criticisms of Israel or Israeli policies have been characterized as anti-Semitic, under a concept called New Antisemitism, which claims attacks against Israel are veiled attacks against Jews.

Critics of this view often portray this view as an “equation” of criticism with anti-Semitism. Some critics of Israel or Israeli policies, including Ralph Nader, Jenny Tonge, Noam Chomsky, and Desmond Tutu suggest that equating criticism of Israel with antisemitism is inappropriate or inaccurate. Other critics, such as John Mearsheimer, Alexander Cockburn, Norman Finkelstein, and William I. Robinson, claim that supporters of Israel sometimes equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism in a deliberate attempt to prevent legitimate criticism of Israel and discredit critics. You see what that line of thinking does to people?


In this post, we have looked at what antisemitism is, the history of Israel, the history of anti-Semitic criticisms regarding Israel, and the response of both sides of the criticism. In a situation like this, lots of people have lots of opinions and some of them are, in fact, racist. I support the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and as I have made clear, I do not think the actions of Israel can be compared to the Nazis.

In regards to Israel, I am not an anti-Zionist. I think people are entitled to a nation, should they so wish. But the actions of Israel, its domestic policy, to achieve those ambitions are unambiguously wrong. Rather than compare them to the Nazis, I see the actions of Israel as comparable to the Americans, and their treatment of the indigenous population. Benjamin Netanyahu needs to stand down, as he is a repugnant man for not accepting the Oslo accords
The want to belong is a universal concept. One which all peoples share. When a sense of belonging impinges on the sense of belonging another group has, then that is undeniably wrong, for all colours and creeds. Israel has done wrong by its people, by having its desire to be a home for the Jewish people impinge upon the civil liberties of Palestinians. I doubt we’ll ever see a solution to this, however.

About the author


Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

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