The media play a critical role in determining what Americans pay attention to and what they know about the issues shaping our country and our world. The media can raise awareness about antisemitism and hold leaders accountable. They have the power to inform and prevent. Please note the big-picture suggestions offered below are not exhaustive. There is always more that can be done.
Identify terms and tropes | Antisemitism can be difficult to pinpoint because it is motivated by disparate ideologies. It is important for reporters and journalists to remember that antisemitism can take many forms, not just swastikas sprayed outside a synagogue or graves desecrated at a Jewish cemetery, for example. Holocaust denial and distortion are an expression of antisemitism as well as the trivialization of the Holocaust. Casual references to Hitler and the Nazis, while not necessarily antisemitic, are at the very least insensitive and inappropriate. Conspiracies of Jewish power and control continue to threaten the well-being of Jewish communities.
AJC’s Translate Hate is a visual glossary to expose antisemitic tropes, words, and symbols that often hide in plain sight. In print or online, Translate Hate can be used to explain why something is antisemitic.
Recognize the difference between criticism of Israel and antisemitism | A great deal of antisemitism is cloaked under the guise of criticism of Israel. There are numerous examples that show how anti-Israel statements and actions can become antisemitic. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, the authoritative definition of antisemitism, provides practical examples that provide context to determine whether something is antisemitic. Examples include discrimination and hatred of Jews, conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial and distortion, and antisemitism related to Israel.
Responding to Antisemitism
Questions to consider | When covering an antisemitic or anti-Israel incident, ask:
- What is the narrative being conveyed? Are stereotypes or tropes being employed?
- Who is the authoritative voice being quoted? Is it a fringe or a mainstream perspective?
- Who can I contact to help understand the issues in greater depth, or for other questions about Judaism, the Jewish community, Israel, or other Jewish-related issues?
- What is the headline being considered? Does it highlight the offensive nature of the incident?
- How is the Jewish community after the incident is over? How did it impact them? Have they changed their behavior or religious practice as a result?
Engage the Jewish community | Build relationships with the Jewish community and circle back after something happens. What was the impact? How did it change their behavior or that of their neighbors? Antisemitism is not a Jewish problem. It is a societal one. It is not only an attack on Jews but an assault on the core values of any democratic and pluralistic society.
Report consistently | In May 2021, during the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Jews were attacked on the street, synagogues were vandalized, protesters carried antisemitic signs, and hateful rhetoric proliferated on social media. Yet, over half of all Americans were unaware of it. The continuous attacks on Haredi Jews in New York have received little media attention from non-Jewish media outlets. When the media does not report, Jewish communities—and victims—may feel marginalized.
Report accurately about Jews | Media coverage can shape public perceptions, not just of antisemitism, but of Jews and Judaism. There are numerous instances in which an antisemitic attack against a Jew occurred, yet media outlets aired only images of “visibly Jewish” Orthodox Jews. Accuracy in reporting can help raise awareness vital for prevention.
Guard against visual displays of hate | When an antisemitic incident is being covered on television and other visual media outlets, media outlets should consider whether blurring hateful symbols and words can prevent the dissemination of hate, or whether sharing the images within an educational context can show the impact it has on the Jewish community. Context is critical. Antisemites often seek public attention and the media can inadvertently feed that desire. At the same time, media outlets are responsible for educating their audiences.
Challenge antisemitism, including Holocaust trivialization | Reporters and journalists should be trained in how to respond if a person being interviewed says something antisemitic or inappropriately distorts the Holocaust. When this happens, the media has the power to hold offenders accountable and demand public apologies. AJC’s Translate Hate can be used to explain why something is antisemitic.
Know who to call | While the Jewish community is diverse—politically, religiously, ethnically, and in every other way—there are sources who represent mainstream perspectives. The local Jewish Federation, the leaders of large local synagogues, and of course the local AJC office are good places to start. Reporters and journalists should keep at the ready a list of unbiased resources on antisemitism and issues related to Israel to make sure they are correctly interpreting an incident or a statement and its antisemitic implications.
Reduce bias | Antisemitism emerges from the far-left, the far-right, and religious extremists. The media should be aware of the sources of antisemitism and raise awareness among their audiences as well. Media outlets with an ideological bent should report on antisemitism within their own encampment, as well as on the opposite side.
Strengthen education on Jews, antisemitism, and the Holocaust | Because the media play a major role in shaping public perceptions of Jews and Judaism, journalists should continue to develop best practices for reporting about antisemitism and Jewish issues. Attacks on Jews remain the majority of all religious-bias hate crimes in America, yet many Americans have never even met a Jew, and only know about Jews and Judaism through what they watch and read. AJC has helped train media corporations, from the Kentucky Courier-Journal to the E.W. Scripps Media Company, about just this topic, and offers trainings about antisemitism regularly. Journalists and reporters should be trained to identify antisemitic terms and tropes.
Be prepared for patterns | There are days and events which are likely to trigger antisemitic incidents. Antisemitism spikes historically around three key areas: during elections, Jewish holidays, and when there is an uptick in violence in the Middle East.
Improve company policies | Media outlets can consider implementing a comprehensive policy on how to address antisemitism, either for internal use or to share with concerned audiences. Including the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism in such policies provides clarity and authority.