What is antisemitism? 

Graphic shows three young jewish people standing side by side in front of a candle representing their religion. The dark sky and clouds behind them symbolise antisemitism

T/W This article includes references to antisemitism and the Holocaust. If you are impacted by this, or if someone you know is, contact our Crisis Messenger 24 hours a day or speak to our team, who are there to support you with whatever you’re going through.

Campaign Against Antisemitism is a charity dedicated to countering antisemitism and they have written this expert guide to help answer the question, ‘what is antisemitism?’ and share tips on the best ways to fight against it.

What is antisemitism?

The International Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA Definition) is used by countries and institutions across the world, and is the only definition of antisemitism that the majority of Jewish groups have agreed on. 

The definition states:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”

The definition also explains more about the meaning of antisemitism*:

  • Antisemitism is directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish people and/or their property**
  • Antisemitism can also be directed towards the Jewish community and/or religious spaces
  • Antisemitism might also include the targeting of the State of Israel, seen as a Jewish collectivity
  • It is antisemitic to hold the State of Israel to double standards and deny its right to exist
  • Antisemitism frequently accuses Jews of conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for ‘why things go wrong’

*This has been simplified by The Mix and the full definition can be viewed here.

**If a non-Jewish person is thought to be acting on behalf of Jewish interests, antisemitic abuse in the form of tropes and stereotypes could still be directed at them.

How can we fight antisemitism?

Holocaust Memorial Day is an opportunity for the world to pay tribute to the six million Jewish men, women and children that were murdered at the hands of the Nazis, and remember why we say “Never Again”.  

Given that the theme for this year’s commemoration was, “Ordinary People”, we wanted to present some different ways in which ordinary people can fight antisemitism today.

Learn about history

Firstly, it’s crucial to study the history of persecution against Jews. There is a common misconception that antisemitism began and ended with the Holocaust. However, antisemitism is known as the “world’s oldest hatred” for a reason. It is thousands of years old and has evolved and adapted to fit with the society of the time. 

They say history repeats itself, and so to understand modern antisemitism, we must first understand the history of it. This is the only way to understand how deadly antisemitism can be. 

Understand the different antisemitic tropes/stereotypes

There’s no one answer to, ‘what does antisemitic mean?’, as antisemitism appears in many ways. Antisemites might accuse Jews of being powerful, greedy, rich, sly or dishonest. These antisemites will often frame themselves as “punching up”.  

Such tropes are often seen when Jewish people are accused of “controlling the media”, or holding and using influence over politicians or people in power.  

The trope of Jewish control was reintroduced to the public in a big way recently, when Kanye West accused Jews of having disproportionate influence within the media. 

However, antisemitism can also “punch down”, casting Jews as vermin, diseased or parasitic. Nazi propaganda depicted Jews in such light through the mainstream publication Der Stürmer, and the far-right memes that we see today have used this as inspiration. 

Only by understanding the different tropes used against Jewish people can you know what to look out for.  

Listen to Jewish people 

One of the most vital ways in which someone can better understand antisemitism is to listen to Jewish people. 

Reading and studying antisemitic tropes and theories is really valuable, but without understanding the first-hand impact that racism against Jews has on people, it’s not possible to develop a well-rounded grasp of what antisemitism is, and how you can be an ally.  

However, it’s important to listen to the Jewish consensus, rather than people who confirm your existing prejudices

The effects of prejudice can, unfortunately, burrow deep inside a person, and Jewish people are no exception. This can result in Jewish people experiencing internalised anti-Jewishness, whereby some Jews in turn end up believing and even spreading antisemitic tropes. Such people are, sadly, used by non-Jewish antisemites as proof that they have been proved right in their racist ideology. 

When listening to Jewish people, ensure that they themselves are not spreading or confirming antisemitism. 

Post on social media 

If you use social media to highlight causes you care about, why not include Jews in your activism? 

It is often said that Jews are frequently left out of online activist spaces, so letting your followers know that antisemitism is unacceptable is a powerful way to spread the message. 

Call it out  

If you heard someone say something hateful or discriminatory about a group of people, you would call it out, right? Antisemitism is no different.  

Experiencing antisemitism is scary, but what’s even scarier is experiencing it with no one to stand up for you. 

While it may seem frightening to speak up, it is extremely important that people use their voice to do what is right. Let people know that you won’t tolerate antisemitism by calling it out. If you’re worried about talking to your family about this, read Simran’s guide to calling out racism in your family. We also have a self care guide for those impacted by racism.

Support Campaign Against Antisemitism 

Staying up-to-date on antisemitism means that you will be the most equipped you can be in order to take a stand against it. Campaign Against Antisemitism is a volunteer-led charity dedicated to exposing and countering antisemitism.  

We do this through education, litigation, petitioning, social media and even podcasting! Learn more at antisemitism.org or follow @antisemitism.

And don’t forget to check out Podcast Against Antisemitism, the world’s only podcast dedicated to the fight against antisemitism! Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or at antisemitism.org/podcast.

Next Steps

By Holly Turner

Updated on 13-Apr-2023

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