When does criticizing Israel veer into antisemitic territory? Well, beating Jews down in the streets and telling them to go back to Israel are two recent examples.  As tensions heightened during the conflict between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza in May, protesters—some maliciously, some unwittingly—employed and spread antisemitic themes and tropes.

There’s a source that offers clear guardrails about what can constitute antisemitism: The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism adopted by more than 30 governments, the EU, the Organization of American States, recommended for use by the UN, used by the U.S. Departments of State and Education and endorsed by the U.S. Secretary of State.

The Working Definition is a clear and compact description of antisemitism in its various forms, including where and how anti-Israel animus can become a form of antisemitism, separate and apart from criticism of Israel.  

American Jewish Committee (AJC) has created another tool: Translate Hate – a glossary of nearly four dozen antisemitic terms – many dating back to medieval times, and at least six either born or given new life just this past year.

Here are eight antisemitic terms, tropes, and themes that pervaded anti-Israel protests in May 2021 and made life more dangerous for Jews in America.

1. Dirty/Filthy Jews and 2. Dual Loyalty

What happened:

In New York’s Times Square, a man wearing a yarmulke was punched, kicked, and attacked with pepper spray by several men who yelled a series of antisemitic phrases, including the well-worn antisemitic epithet “Dirty Jew. Filthy Jew,” as well as “Hamas is going to kill you” and “Go back to Israel.”

Why this is antisemitic:

Dirty/filthy Jews: These are slurs meant to demean Jewish people and cast them as unworthy, unclean, and greedy. Depending on context, it can refer to multiple themes of antisemitism, including “Poisoning the well,” an accusation rooted in the 14th century Bubonic Plague, blaming Jews for purposefully spreading disease and “greed,” which has led to a long list of Jewish stereotypes, including being excessively materialistic and money-oriented, exploiting others for personal gain, being overly wealthy, and controlling the world’s finances.

Dual loyalty: Telling an American Jew to “go back to Israel” is a form of dual loyalty, accusing a Jewish person of being a disloyal citizen whose true allegiance is to Israel. This charge sows distrust and spreads harmful ideas—like the belief that Jews are a traitorous “fifth column,” meaning they are undermining their country from within. For centuries, these antisemitic accusations of disloyalty have led to the harassment, marginalization, oppression, and murder of Jewish people. Go deeper, read more from AJC Translate Hate’s entry on Dual Loyalty.

Hamas, the terrorist group that occupies Gaza: The terrorist organization is dedicated to the murder of all Jews in Israel – a goal spelled out in its charter: the end to the Jewish state and the creation of an Islamic state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. 

3. From the River to the Sea

Across the country, protesters held signs proclaiming “From the River to the Sea” – a call for Palestinian control over the entirety of Israel’s borders, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

When it is antisemitic:

There is, of course, nothing antisemitic about advocating for Palestinians to have their own state. However, when protestors chant “From the River to the Sea,” they are rejecting Israel’s right to exist, by indicating that the entire land of Israel should be freed from Jews. Calling for the elimination of the Jewish state denies Jews the right to self-determination. This saying is a historic call-to-arms for terrorist groups and their sympathizers, from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) to Hamas.

The belief that the Jewish people do not have the right to a national home in their ancestral homeland (e.g. that the State of Israel should not exist)—is itself widely believed by Jews to be a form of antisemitism. Go deeper, read AJC Translate Hate’s entry on Zionist.

4. Holding Israel to a Different Standard

On May 11, Daily Show host Trevor Noah compared Israel’s decision to employ its military might to defend civilians against terrorist attacks to a big brother picking on his younger brother, suggesting that because Israel “has more power,” it should not respond as forcefully.

When it is antisemitic:

Expecting Israel to half-heartedly defend its citizens against a terrorist organization that says it exists to destroy Israel is a double standard that would not be expected of any other democratic country.

The Israeli Defense Forces selectively strikes military targets focused on terrorist organizations’ weapons caches, military command centers, and terror tunnels. It takes extreme precautions to avoid civilian casualties, including dropping leaflets warning of targeted attacks, sending SMS messages to those in harm’s way, and making phone calls to evacuate targeted sites. Nonetheless, Israel is disproportionately criticized. Hamas, which instigates and uses Palestinians as human shields, is often left out of the picture or is seen as “the underdog.”

5. Deicide and 6. Blood Libel

“Jesus was Palestinian, and you killed him too!” declared a protester’s sign in Miami. In Los Angeles, protesters hoisted a banner with then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wearing a Hitler mustache and devouring a Palestinian child. Both tropes echo centuries-old methods of maligning Jews.

Why this is antisemitic:

Deicide: While the deicide charge, or blaming Jews for Jesus’ death has been refuted by the Catholic Church, antisemites continue to make this charge to justify their anti-Jewish hatred. Branding Jews as Christ killers has been recycled in the Middle East, often in the form of Jesus representing Palestinians who are “crucified” by the Israeli Defense Forces or the Israeli Government.

Blood libel: Blood libel charges have evolved from Medieval times into a widespread blame of Jews or Israelis for purposefully targeting and killing Palestinian children. As one of the longest-standing forms of antisemitism, blood libels have led to horrific violence, destruction, persecution, and massacres of Jewish people and communities—before, during, and beyond the Nazi propaganda that used it to demonize Jews.

7. Holocaust Denial/Distortion

When a Jewish group gathered in Boca Raton, Florida to show their support for Israel, white supremacists cruised by in a van painted with the phrase “Holocaust never happened” and “Hitler was right” and waving a Palestinian flag.

Meanwhile in Seattle, a sign at a rally featured images of Adolf Hitler and Netanyahu side-by-side with the slogan “Zionism=Nazism.”

Why this is antisemitic:

Holocaust denial: Those who say the Holocaust did not happen or deny its scope are peddling in antisemitism. Despite endless historical facts, Holocaust denial spreads the false notion that Jews invented or exaggerated the Holocaust, including the diary of Anne Frank, Hitler’s intent to massacre Jews, the use of gas chambers in concentration camps, and the murder of six million Jews.

Holocaust distortion: Equating the Israeli Prime Minister to Hitler is a graphic and offensive form of Holocaust distortion. One can disagree with Israeli policy, but saying Israel is perpetrating a “second Holocaust” and trying to annihilate Palestinians just as Hitler attempted to annihilate all of Europe’s Jews is not only factually wrong, it is antisemitic. Claiming that Israel, home to the largest number of living Holocaust survivors, behaves like the Nazis in its treatment of Palestinians is a personal attack on survivors and distorts the impact of the Shoah. 

8. Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel

“Are you Jewish?” That was how members of a mob wearing Hamas-inspired garb introduced themselves to customers dining at an outdoor sushi restaurant, before launching a physical assault on May 18.

Chanting “Death to Jews’’ and “Free Palestine,” the attackers were in search of people they could punish for Israel’s actions.

Why this is antisemitic:

Interchangeably blaming Jewish people for the actions and policies of a sovereign nation furthers conspiracy theories about control and world domination. Reports that claim Jews control the media, banks, and governments are part of a longstanding conspiracy of secret Jewish power. This antisemitic trope is rooted in the discredited publication, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was published in Russian tsarist times and accused Jews of trying to control the world.

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