November 17, 2023
This piece originally appeared in The Algemeiner
The October 7 Hamas terror attack in Israel was the worst single day massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. And yet, Hamas’ torture, indiscriminate murder, and kidnapping of innocent people has unleashed staggering antisemitism around the world.
More than 1,200 people were slaughtered in Israel, including women, children, infants, and the elderly, and approximately 240 hostages are still being held in Gaza. The attacks, and the Israeli government’s response to them, have sparked protests around the world.
Unfortunately, too many of the voices criticizing Israel’s actions to defend itself and rescue its hostages have descended into open antisemitism.
American Jews make up just more than 2% of the US population, yet they accounted for more than half of religiously-motivated hate crimes in 2022 according to the FBI — a 37% increase compared to 2021. And that was long before the Hamas attack and the subsequent aftermath on the Jewish community.
Contemporary antisemitism is often stoked by social media and online posts. Since October 7, messages that are not only anti-Israel, but anti-Jewish have been amplified by segments within pro-Palestinian protests.
Antisemitism is the world’s oldest prejudice because of its adaptability; today we see this hatred promoted under the guise of human rights. While it is not always clear when or whether some words and phrases are blatantly antisemitic–and context can be critical, if you witness these eight terms, tropes, and themes, you are seeing discrimination against Jews.
There are not two sides to antisemitism.
1. Dirty/Filthy Jews
Describing Jews as “dirty” or “filthy,” which was seen on a sign during a pro-Palestine protest, draws on anti-Jewish themes including “poisoning the well,” an accusation rooted in the 14th-century Bubonic Plague that blamed Jews for purposefully spreading disease. Following the Hamas attack on Israel in October 2023, a Jewish person in London was called a “dirty Jew” and was also told, “no wonder you’re all getting raped.” That’s happened countless times before and after October 7.
2. Dual Loyalty
Dual loyalty is a bigoted trope used to cast Jews as the “other,” accusing them of being disloyal citizens whose true allegiance is to other Jews or to Israel. This creates distrust and spreads harmful ideas, such as the belief Jews are a traitorous “fifth column,” undermining their country from within. Some anti-Israel activists have asserted Jews should leave their countries and Israel to go “back to Poland” or other places where Jews have historically lived. Dual loyalty accusations also occur on US college campuses, when Jewish students are asked to denounce Israel in order to participate in progressive activities.
3. Justifying Hamas
Hamas is an internationally-recognized terrorist organization in Gaza, which is funded by Iran. Its founding charter, also known as the Covenant, calls for the destruction of Israel and the annihilation of the world’s Jews.
Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin said, “Killing Jews is an act of devotion.”
At several pro-Palestine rallies around the world, protestors chanted, spray painted, and held signs supporting Hamas and promoting violence, saying “resistance is justified when people are occupied.” Slaughtering innocent people, including children and babies; raping women; and kidnapping civilians is not resistance. Any justification for Hamas must be condemned for what it is: defending the indiscriminate murder of Jews.
4. “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free”
“From the River to the Sea,” is a rallying cry for terrorist groups and their sympathizers, from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) to Hamas, who are seeking Palestinian control over all of Israel’s borders from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
While there is nothing antisemitic about advocating for Palestinians to have their own state, this specific call implies the eradication of Israel and Jews from their historic homeland.
To most Jews, the chant is an existential threat to the one Jewish state where Jews can live freely and safely. Yet, pro-Palestine protesters, including members of Congress, have repeatedly used and defended the phrase, despite it being a call for violence against Jews and Israelis.
The deicide charge, which blames Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion, is a trope echoing centuries-old methods of maligning Jews that have been refuted for decades by the Roman Catholic Church. But antisemites continue to use it to justify anti-Jewish hatred. Branding Jews as Christ-killers has been recycled in the Middle East, often by comparing Jesus with Palestinians who are “crucified” by the Israeli military or government.
In May 2021, for instance, a protester in Miami held a sign reading, “Jesus was Palestinian and you killed him too,” and in London, a protester shared an image of Christ carrying the cross with the words, “Do not let them do the same thing today again.”
6. Blood Libel
Since the Middle Ages, blood libel charges have falsely accused Jews of killing and using the blood of Christians for ritual purposes. For centuries, such claims to demonize Jews led to horrific violence, destruction, persecution, and massacres of Jewish people and communities.
Today, these antisemitic charges have evolved into blaming Jews for purposefully targeting and killing Palestinian children. The blood libel has been seen and heard from cartoons, such as in Al-Ghad, the Jordanian daily, which depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drinking the blood of children in the Gaza Strip, to inappropriate signs and libelous headlines, including on October 17, 2023, when major newspapers including The New York Times falsely reported that Israel intentionally bombed the Al Ahli Baptist Hospital.
This misinformation perpetuated a common antisemitic trope that Israelis are bloodthirsty and intentionally killed Palestinian civilians, and led to attacks on Jewish communities and institutions. It took several days before news sources accurately reported that a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) rocket misfired and hit the hospital, by which time the false narrative was already accepted as truth.
7. Holocaust Distortion and Denial
Distorting or trivializing the Holocaust, which was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators, is an attack on Jewish memory and identity.
We saw an alarming amount of Holocaust comparisons during the COVID-19 pandemic, which downplayed and distorted the Holocaust and lessened what Hitler did. On the other side, saying Zionism, which is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, equals Nazism — which led to the genocide of the Jewish people — also lessens what Hitler did. That statement is not a disagreement with Israeli policy; it is a distortion of the Holocaust.
The day after Hamas’ invasion, a pro-Palestinian protester displayed a Nazi swastika in Times Square. Graffiti of Nazi swastikas were tagged on Jewish institutions around the world. Saying Israel is perpetrating a “second Holocaust” by trying to annihilate Palestinians is both factually wrong and antisemitic.
8. Holding Jews Collectively Responsible
While criticizing the Israeli government is not antisemitic, associating all Jews with the policies of a sovereign nation absolutely is. This blame furthers long standing conspiracy theories of secret Jewish power and world domination, which originate from a discredited Tsarist Russian publication called Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Even though it is clearly a work of fiction, “many school textbooks throughout the Arab and Islamic world teach the Protocols as fact,” according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Jews around the world have rightly feared that anti-Israel protests and pro-Hamas sentiment would lead to violence against Jews living in the Diaspora. Unfortunately, there are dozens of examples of how Jews continue to be targeted because of the war.
Many of these terms and dozens of others are found in the Translate Hate glossary from American Jewish Committee (AJC), which highlights how easy it is for antisemitism to hide in plain sight. The more you can recognize these terms, the easier it is to call them out for what they are and help combat anti-Jewish prejudice and hatred.
Holly Huffnagle is the U.S. Director for Combating Antisemitism at American Jewish Committee (AJC).