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So What Makes it Antisemitic? A Simple Guide to Antisemitism

05/24/21: Avi Abraham Benlolo

A protestor carrying an Antisemitic sign on May 22nd, 2021 - Toronto Pro-Palestinian Rally


As antisemitism explodes worldwide, a strengthened understanding of the scourge is required by the public at large, the media, government leaders and law enforcement.


In the last number of days, internal corporate memos have been sent to me from people around the world asking for my opinion about the the language and inferences that appear to be antisemitic in tone. Some organizations may even end up considering new policies that may cross over into antisemitic territory. So how can leaders thoughtfully avoid making antisemitic policy decisions - even accidentally?


The terrorist group Hamas attacked Israel. This created a surge in antisemitic attacks and assaults on Jewish people worldwide. Defining Antisemitism, its nuances and its complexities is essential in order to confront the scourge. Understanding hate speech law in combination with accepted international standards concerning Antisemitism is necessary for criminal charges to be laid and for public policy implementation.


Everyone can fight antisemitism in their workplace, community, social sphere and the media with a heightened knowledge of its core definition. The situation requires all hands on deck. Near the end of this article, I will provide references to some of my recent articles pertaining to Antisemitism, which could help with further background and understanding.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of antisemitism is the universally accepted working definition. It has been endorsed by more than 30 nations (mostly democracies) and mainstream Jewish community.



IHRA Definition:

“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.(IHRA)


"Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits". (IHRA)


But as we all know, the above definition is far too simplistic. Antisemitism is one of the most complex form of racism and discrimination ever known to humanity. It is well over 3,500 years old and is littered with the history of the Jewish people from ancient times.

This is not an exhaustive list. But here are SOME of the current variants of Antisemitism that are touching our lives in an increasing basis.


Comparing Jews to Nazis: One of the glaring illustrations of antisemitism especially on social media and recent protests is the drawing comparison between contemporary Israeli policies to Nazism. So we have seen posters at rallies that say for example, "Way to go Israel, Hitler would be proud".


Denial of Rights: Denying the Jewish people their right to self determination. For example by saying that the existence of Israel is a racist endeavour. The Universal Declaration for Human Rights recognizes people's aspirations for freedom. However, only the Jews in Israel are denied this freedom. Instead, they are falsely accused of racism and even apartheid.


Targeting of Jews Worldwide: Jewish people are collectively held responsible for anything that happens in Israel. They are targeted because they are Jewish. Violent Antisemitic attacks like the one at the Hyper Kacher Market in Paris where 4 Jews were murdered, specifically target Jews because they are Jewish.


Double Standards: Israel is the only country that is constantly under the magnifying glass and is expected to rise to the level not expected by any other nation. For instance, Israel is on the permanent agenda of the International Human Rights Council - an institution that has condemned Israel more than any other nation - including Syria for example that has murdered some 500,000 of its own citizens.


Calling for Murder of Jews: It may sound obvious when it comes to Antisemitism. But what group is threatened more by so many more people than the Jewish community? Iran has threatened to "wipe Israel off the map". At recent protests we hear chants like "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" - understood as a call for genocide.


Conspiracy Theories: Myths about Jews have been created to legitimize antisemitism and their murder. The infamous Blood Libel; the Protocols of the Elders of Zion; the Murder of Jesus and the calling of Israel an apartheid state in modern times - these and more are tools to legitimize hate.


Jews as Colonizers/Occupiers: Some institutions recently declared on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that they are anti-colonization and occupation. This is flatly in reference to the Jewish people in Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is physical evidence of Judaism throughout the land of Israel - from ancient times - but very little if any of Palestinians. Jews are not colonizers or occupiers of their own land.


Holocaust Denial: There are those who wish to deny that the Holocaust took place or if it did, it was relatively minor. They deny the murder of the six million. Today, the fight against this sentiment has been mostly won. However, it still persists especially with jokes about the Holocaust on social media.

BDS: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has been called antisemitic by the west. It is antisemitic because it seeks to deny the Jewish people their fundamental rights to their homeland. Traditionally, most antisemitic incidents throughout history began with a boycott of the Jews. Who can forget Hitler's decree, "Do Not Buy from the Jews!". Those who advocate for BDS rarely apply the same policy to any other nation - especially those that deserve it most.


Apartheid: The biggest antisemitic lie of modern times is the reference that Israel is a racist endeavour. We have seen campaigns on university campuses like "Israeli Apartheid Week" that aim to delegitimize the Jewish state. However, Israel is a free and democratic nation. While imperfect and can certainly strive toward improvement like other nations, Israeli Arabs enjoy the same freedom as all Israeli citizens .


Online Hate: Undeniably, the most substantive growth of Antisemitism is happening online and in social networking forums. Young people are being mostly affected. Many pro-Israel students are reporting death threats and abuse online. There is an urgent need to confront online Antisemitism.

Each one of the above mentioned areas concerning antisemitism can be expanded on dramatically. The above list may not necessarily cover every area - but these are the main points often considered when thinking about what is the often referred to as the New Antisemitism - which is inherently tied to the State of Israel as the embodiment of the Jewish people.


Natan Sharansky also created a simple tool to help identify modern Antisemitism. He called it the "3D Test" - to identify Antisemitism and distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from Antisemitism. Not all criticism of Israel is antisemitic! Run through this test before jumping to conclusion:

  1. DEMONIZATION: When the Jewish state is being demonized; when Israel's actions are blown out of all sensible proportion; when comparisons are made between Israelis and Nazis and between Palestinian refugee camps and Auschwitz - this is anti- Semitism, not legitimate criticism of Israel.

  2. DOUBLE STANDARDS: When criticism of Israel is applied selectively; when Israel is singled out by the United Nations for human rights abuses while the behaviour of known and major abusers, such as China, Iran, Cuba, and Syria, is ignored; when Israel's Magen David Adom, alone among the world's ambulance services, is denied admission to the International Red Cross - this is anti-Semitism.

  3. DELEGITIMIZATION: When Israel's fundamental right to exist is denied - alone among all peoples in the world - this too is anti-Semitism.

As evident, Sharansky's test for antisemitism has stood the test of time. In fact, it is relevant now more than ever given the rising tide of antisemitism. It should be noted however, that much of the above concepts including the IHRA definition has gone through lengthy processes including international forums like The Stockholm Declaration; The London Declaration on Combatting Antisemitism and the Ottawa Interparliamentary Coalition for Combatting Antisemitism - (which I participated in as well).


In 2011, I published an article in the Huffington Post about Canada's new effort to fight antisemitism. I wrote that the Ottawa Protocol to Combat Anti-Semitism


"...sets out a vibrant definition of anti-Semitism which, for the first time in history, links anti-Semitism to the denial of the right Jewish people have to their ancestral home land -- the State of Israel. This, in fact, is what sets post-World War Two anti-Semitism apart from its historic roots. Today's anti-Semitism is all about denial: denial of the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish

movement to reclaim the land of Israel; denial of a Jewish history in connection to the holy land and, in particular, the centrality of Jerusalem to the Jewish people; denial of the Holocaust (while at the same time accusing Jews of Nazism); and denial of Jews to live free of anti-Semitism, hate and intolerance".


Over the last ten months, I have been writing profusely about Antisemitism. But to a large measure, I was starting to become hopeful that its days are numbered - especially on university campuses. Unfortunately, what we are about to see most likely in the coming months and year is a greater institutional effort to apply new policies which may foment Antisemitism. Understanding Antisemitism and defining it while recording its variations and responding to them will be essential in the coming months and years.


- Avi


To receive direct, subscribe to my newsletter and briefings at www.avibenlolo.org


To read more about the IHRA Definition: https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/resources/working-definitions-charters/working-definition-antisemitism


Further Reading on Antisemitism from some of my writings:


ABOUT: Avi Abraham Benlolo has been described as the nation's most prominent and noted expert in Holocaust studies, in countering Antisemitism and promoting human rights. He has dedicated nearly three decades in executive capacities, was founding President and CEO of a major organization in the Jewish community, has raised over $150 million for charities and is a leading voice in Canada. His academic research, graduate degree, Ph.D. coursework and nearly three decades of professional work has focused on these arenas in addition to peace and security in the Middle East. He has published hundreds of articles in these areas. In recognition of his national and international leadership in this area, he has received numerous awards including an Honorary Doctorate from a prestigious Israeli university for his work in Holocaust studies and combating antisemitism; an Order of Vaughan for his distinguished contribution to anti-racism, equity and diversity; the Queens Diamond Jubilee Award for his contributions to Canada and a race relations award for best practice, based on distinguished service in promoting human rights.

As a supporter of Israel, he is proud to have established "The Avi Benlolo Scholarship Fund in National Security" at Haifa University.





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