Table of Contents
- Jews, Demography, U.S. & Israel
- Antisemitism, Classical Tropes
- Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
- Perspectives on Far Left Critiques of Israel
- New Antisemitism, Anti-Zionism & Antizionism
- BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions)
- Inter-group workings for peace and understanding
Jews, Demography, U.S. & Israel
There are about 15 million Jews in the world. Jews constitute about 0.2% (1/500th) of the world population. There are another 10 million people in the world who have at least one Jewish grandparent or an immediate family member who is Jewish or has at least one Jewish grandparent (Source: Institute for Jewish Policy Research). Over 90% of the world’s Jews live in Israel and the United States, about half in each.
As of 2020 (see: Pew Research Center and Steinhardt Social Research Institute), there are about 7 million Jews in the United States, about 2% of the U.S. population. Over 1/5 of U.S. Jews live in the New York City metro area; over 1/7 of residents in Brooklyn and in Manhattan are Jewish. Another 1/7 of U.S. Jews live in the Los Angeles and Miami metro areas; over 1/20 of residents in these areas are Jewish.
Jews are a peoplehood. While Judaism is a religion, Jews can be religious or secular. Most U.S. Jewish adults say being Jewish is foremost about ancestry/culture/ethnicity and about 1/5 of U.S. Jewish adults (19% to 25% of U.S. Jewish adults, at 95% confidence) do not believe in the God of the bible or in any higher power or spiritual force. About 2/3 of U.S. Jews identify as Ashkenazi and about 90% as non-Hispanic White.
Based on a Pew study, over 2/3 of U.S. Jews identify with or lean towards the Democratic party (higher among non-Orthodox Jews; Orthodox Jews tend to identify with or lean towards the Republican party). Less than 1/5 identify as conservative (again, a majority of Orthodox Jews) and about half as liberal.
There are also about 7 million Jews in Israel, about 3/4 of Israel’s population. Over 40% of Israeli Jews identify as secular. About 48% of Israeli Jews are Sephardic, Ethiopian, or Mizrahi (Jews from the Middle East / North Africa region), about 44% of Israeli Jews are Ashkenazi, and then the remaining 8% of Israeli Jews are some combination. About 1/5 of Israel’s (citizen) population are Gentile Arabs, many of whom self-identify as Palestinian.
Beyond Israel and the United States, the (12) countries with the highest Jewish populations (over 30,000) are: France (about 450,000), Canada (under 400,000), the United Kingdom (under 300,000), Argentina (175,000), Russia (150,000), Germany (118,000), Australia (118,000), Brazil (91,500), South Africa (52,000), Hungary (46,800), Ukraine (43,000), and Mexico (40,000).
As of 1939, prior to the Holocaust, there were about 17 million Jews in the world, about 0.7% of the world population. About 3/4 of Jews lived in 5 areas: almost 30% of Jews lived in the United States, about 20% in Poland, about 18% in the USSR, about 5% in Romania, and about 3% in Palestine. However, the majority of Poland’s 3.3 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust (as well as over 1.2 USSR and Romanian Jews). Over 1 out of every 3 Jews in the world was murdered in the Holocaust, over 2/3 of European Jews. Romanian Jews following the Holocaust largely fled to Palestine, and USSR Jews were prohibited from emigrating until the 1970s, when they emigrated en masse. A majority of Jews from the former Soviet Union emigrated to Israel, with most of the rest emigrating to the United States and Germany. While Jews were about 7.7% of the pre-Holocaust European population (about 9 million), today there are about 2 million Jews in Europe (0.3% of the European population). When Israel established independence in 1948, there were also almost one million Jews living through the Arab and Muslim world; due to anti-Jewish violence, ethnic cleansing, and a desire to emigrate to Israel, a Jewish exodus occurred, mostly to Israel. Today, outside of Israel, there are about 400 Jews living in the Middle East, 3,000 in North Africa, and 24,000 in non-Arab Muslim countries.
Antisemitism, Classical Tropes
Working definition of antisemitism, International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
• This is the definition adopted by the U.S. State Department.
• Spelling of antisemitism, International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
Antisemitism Training Film “Antisemitism in our Midst: Past and Present” (11 minutes), Berkeley Center for Jewish Studies, 2022
This video charts the history of antisemitism from its origins until today. It tackles the hard questions about different and changing forms of antisemitism, persistent anti-Jewish stereotypes, the complex racial position of Jews in contemporary America, and the precise line between criticism of Israel and antisemitism.
“Understanding Antisemitism: A Three-Part Video Series”, Hillel International, 2022
• Video 1: What is Judaism? Who are Jews? (16 minutes)
This video introduces the origins of Judaism as an ancient civilization; its evolution as an ethnoreligion, culture, nation, and people; and discusses the diversity of Jews historically and today.
• Video 2: History of Antisemitism (9 minutes)
This video explores the origins and evolution of antisemitism, as well as the antisemitic myths and tropes that persist from ancient times until the present day.
• Video 3: Antisemitism Today (18 minutes)
This video examines how antisemitism manifests today, specifically on college campuses and in broader society. It articulates the ways in which Jewish students experience antisemitism on their campuses, and how both Jewish students and their allies can address it.
“Antisemitism Uncovered: A Guide to Old Myths in a New Era.” Anti-Defamation League, 2020
ADL’s comprehensive resource with historical context, fact-based descriptions of the myths, contemporary examples and calls-to-action for addressing this hate.
Antisemitism Uncovered Video Series Anti-Defamation League, 2023
Each of the 7 2-minute videos, a companion to the above-linked guide, explores one of the tropes: the myth of power; myth of deicide; myth of greed; myth of blood libel; myth of Holocaust denial; and the myth that antizionism or criticism of Israel is never antisemitic.
“Debunking Myths About Jews”, European Network Against Racism, 2015
Southern Poverty Law Center
• Antisemitism, 2022
Holocaust Denial; Antisemitism across the Far Right and Mainstream; recent happenings and current hate groups. Includes links to more information about antisemitic hate groups Nation of Islam and Committee For Open Debate on the Holocaust.
• “George Soros Tropes are Harmful and Never-ending”, 2023
A majority of U.S. religion-based hate-crimes in the United States target Jews. As of July 2021, we can be over 95% confident that over 85% of U.S. Jews are concerned about antisemitism. The majority of U.S. Jews are more concerned about right-wing groups and individuals, though over 1/4 are either more concerned with left-wing groups and individuals or equally concerned about both.
Traditional White Nationalism/Supremacy and Antisemitism
Traditional white supremacist ideology targets Jews as central to their ideology, perceiving Jews as a different human race that constitutes the powerful, neurotic, manipulative evil force promoting multiculturalism and thus “white genocide.” If you are not familiar with the tenets of white supremacist ideology and the centrality of Jews to white supremacist ideology, you can read a white supremacist ideology at Stormfront: “Intro Material for People New to Stormfront,” 2008.
Antisemitism as conspiracy theory, Yair Rosenberg
• I suggest following Yair Rosenberg on Twitter/X and/or through The Atlantic
Here are a few sources about antisemitism as conspiracy theory:
• The Normalization of Antisemitism, Exploring Hate, MetroFocus, PBS (28 minute video, transcript included): Guests: Yair Rosenberg, Pamela Nadell, Eric Ward
• Why So Many People Still Don’t Understand Anti-Semitism, The Atlantic, 2022
• What I Told Congress Today About Anti-Semitism, The Atlantic, 2023
• How to Be Anti-Semitic and Get Away With it, The Atlantic, 2023
“Hebcrit: a new dimension of critical race theory.” Daniel Ian Rubin, 2020, Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture
Abstract: I believe that it is essential to identify a new facet of Critical Race Theory that specifically addresses the needs of the Jewish people. Often overlooked and ignored in multicultural, diversity, and ethnic studies, Jews continue to face specific concerns and obstacles in the both the United States and around the world. In this article, I outline the foundational structure of this new critical theory that investigates issues affecting Jewish people in American society. HebCrit (pronounced ‘heeb’) is rooted in Critical Race Theory, History, Social Psychology, Education, and Jewish Studies. This new theoretical framework provides a way to address the complicated positionality that many American Jews navigate on a daily basis.
What is Zionism? Zioness
Zionism began as a movement to re-establish a Jewish state. For Jews, Zionism was especially about the Jewish diaspora escaping historical and continued state repression, returning to the Jewish homeland to create a state of their own such that they could control and as such not be victims of antisemitism, and so that for the remaining Jewish diaspora, there would always be a safe place to go should the need arise.
Jewish Indigeneity and History in the Land of Israel
*Note: BCE and CE are for Before Common Era and Common Era, a way to mark the Gregorian calendar that is inclusive of non-Christians (compared to BC and AD).
Jewish life began in the Levantine region. The following is an abbreviated and quite partial account of what transpired between then and now. In 586 BCE, Babylonia exiled Jews from the Kingdoms of Israel (Yisrael) and Judah (Yehudah) (including the destruction of the first temple). (Note: Both of these terms, Yehudah and Yisrael, also refer to the Jewish people.) This began the Jewish diaspora, including the geographic dispersion of Jews, with some settling in communities around the world, and some remaining in the area, repeatedly returning to the land, and repeatedly exiled, expelled, persecuted, and murdered. Jews were able to return in 538 BCE, but were again exiled in 70 CE (with the destruction of the second temple), this time by Rome. Jews did not have (more than a few years of) self-rule again until 1948 CE.
During the two millennia in between, there was a continuous presence of Jews in the area, and the Jewish diaspora prayed turned to Jerusalem. In the 130s CE, Jews had been living in the Roman province of Judaea, named after the Kingdom of Judah, sometimes with semi-autonomous governance and sometimes not. Jewish revolts to Roman rule led to an independent Jewish enclave for a few years, but the Romans defeated the Jewish rebellion, killing Jews, expelling Jews, and selling Jews into slavery. As part of the Roman’s military defeat of the Jews and ethnic cleansing of Jews from Judaea, they renamed Judaea “Syria Palaestina,” removing Jewish connection to the name of the land. Jews were again able to return to Jerusalem in the 360s, and from 614 to 617 had autonomous control of Jerusalem, though in 628 Jews in Jerusalem were again murdered and exiled. A decade later, now under Islamic rule, Jews were able to return and resettle in Jerusalem. However, government-sanctioned discrimination in the 700s and Muslim civil wars led many Jews to leave the area. In the 1100s the Crusades included a genocide of Jews in Palestine, and Jews not murdered were sold into slavery (though Jews in Galilee remained safe). Jews were able to return in 1187, with an Arab defeat of the Christian Crusaders. From 1260 to 1517, the Egyptian Mamluks ruled the area. Many Jews and other residents left the area due to oppression and socioeconomic conditions, but Jews also migrated to the area from elsewhere, though there was also a Catholic ban for a period of time on aiding Jewish emigration to Palestine. (Meanwhile in 1492 all Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal.) At least since the 1400s Jews have ended their Pesach/Passover holiday seder/observation with the phrase “Next year in Jerusalem.” In 1517 the area came under Ottoman rule, and in the 1560s Tiberias was established as a semi-autonomous Jewish principality, though it ended up unsuccessful. However, during the 1600s, due to security and socioeconomic issues, along with oppression of Jews, many Jews left the area. Migration into and out of Palestine, hardship, and oppression continued throughout the 1600s and 1700s, including violence, economic hardship, and a limit on the number of Jews allowed to live in Jerusalem. In the 1800s, Jewish migration to Jerusalem increased, with Jews becoming the majority demographic in the city, though very much a numeric minority throughout most of Palestine.
Future migrations, or aliyot, from 1882 forward, are considered part of the Jewish migrations associated with modern Zionism. Jewish migration between 1882 and 1903 Ottoman Palestine primarily came from Russia, along with some migration from Yemen and Kurdistan, and resulted in the establishment of a handful of agricultural communities. During this period the “First Zionist Congress” was held in 1897 in Switzerland, and Tikvatenu (Our Hope) / Hatikvah (The Hope) became the Zionist anthem: “As long as in the heart within, / The Jewish soul yearns, / And toward the eastern edges, onward, / An eye gazes toward Zion. / Our hope is not yet lost, / The hope that is two-thousand years old, / To be a free nation in our land, / The Land of Zion and Jerusalem.” Jewish migration from 1904 to 1914 was again especially from Eastern Europe, where Jews continued to experience pogroms, as well as from Yemen, Iran, and Argentina. During this wave of immigration, Jews established kibbutzim (socialist agricultural intentional communities), began to use modern conversational Hebrew, and developed self-defense organizations to protect themselves from Arab raids.
As part of World War I, the British, French, Italians, together with an Arab uprising, fought against the Ottoman, German, and Austro-Hungarian empires, and the British issued the so-called “Balfour Declaration,” announcing British support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” land that if their side won the World War, the Allied forces had agreed would be under British control.
Following the war, Jewish migration from 1919 to 1923 was again mainly from Eastern Europe. During this time, Jewish governance institutions formed. Also during this time, Palestinian Arabs organized, initially pushing for Palestine to be part of an independent Arab Syria, but given Syria’s control by the French and Palestine and Transfordan by the British, they dropped that demand in favor of “Palestine for the Arabs.” They collective opposed Jewish immigration, Zionism, the idea of a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine, and in 1922 adopted a boycott of Jewish goods and a prohibition of selling land to Jews. Violence against Jews also grew during the early 1920s.
Jewish emigration to Israel from 1924 to 1929 was primarily from Poland due to growing antisemitism, as well as other parts of Europe, Eastern Europe, Yemen, and Iraq. Responding to Arab advocacy, in 1930 the British called for a halt to Jewish immigration and land only be sold to Arabs (Passfield White Paper), but the following year, in response to Jewish adocacy, the British reversed course. From 1929 to 1939, as Nazis rose to power, Jewish migration to Palestine grew in turn, with major acts of violence against Jews in 1933 and 1935.
From 1933 to 1948, Jewish immigration continued, despite British quotas capping it. Jews were smuggled to Palestine, including Holocaust survivor refugees at times being turned back when caught by the British, or sent to British deportation camps in Cyprus, or at times meeting tragedy. Also during this time, the Arab Revolt of 1936 to 1939 took place, which included not just boycott but attacking Jewish settlements and a British and Zionist armed response. Even though the arrival of British troops restored some semblance of order, the armed rebellion, arson, bombings, and assassinations continued, and the British decided partitioning the region was the only pathway forward, with the establishment of a Jewish state as part of the partition. Read more here about what happened from here through the establishment of Israel as a nation-state in May 1948.
With World War II approaching, Britain wanted support across the Middle East. In 1939 the British issued a White Paper that the Jewish homeland would be within an independent Palestinian state. Between this and British limits to Jewish immigration, the Zionists and British were at odds over Palestine, yet had to be allied against the Nazis. David Ben-Gurion on behalf of the Jewish Agency for Palestine iterated, “We shall fight [beside Great Britain in] this war as if there was no White Paper and we shall fight the White Paper as if there was no war.” Zionist terrorist organizations formed which targeted the British and successfully assassinated the British minister of state in 1944. In 1945, the United States began advocating for admitting Displaced Person Holocaust survivors to Palestine and for the British to end their caps on Jewish immigration. Arab leaders in the Middle East also convened the Arab League declared a boycott of Zionist goods and support for an Arab Palestine. The British, wanting good relations with Arab countries, continued to limit immigration and not move forward towards a Jewish state, and Zionist militants continued to target British colonial forces, in 1946 blowing up part of their military command at the King David Hotel.
The beleaguered British, who still had 80,000 troops in Palestine, tried a last attempt to find a way forward with a February 1947 conference to try to resolve what to do, and when that failed, referred the Palestine question to the United Nations. The UN Special Committee on Palestine recommended partitioning British-controlled Mandatory Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state (each in lands where Arabs and Jews respectively were the majority population), which was adopted by a two-thirds majority of the UN General Assembly. While the Jewish Agency for Palestine accepted the United Nations resolution, Arab leaders rejected it, resulting in civil war. On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel announced its independence, and was subsequently attacked by Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. The war resulted in Israel’s survival, about 700,000 Palestinian refugees, Jordanian control of the West Bank, and Egyptian control of Gaza. Palestinians refer to the creation of this refugee crisis as Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe.”
Following the United Nations adopting a partition plan splitting the and the subsequent establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Zionism changed from a movement to create a Jewish state to a value or commitment that Israel should continue to exist, as a Jewish state. From 1948 to 1960, over 600,000 Jews came to Israel, primarily from post-Holocaust Europe and from the Arab and Muslim world. In 1967, a war between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria resulted in Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza. A Jewish exodus from the Soviet Union began in 1968 when the USSR began allowing Jews to leave the country. Today Israel occupies the West Bank, home to over 2 million Palestinians, with the Palestinian Authority having some limited jurisdiction. Hamas governs Gaza, home to almost 2 million Palestinians, which is under Israeli blockade but not ground troop occupation. By and large, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza currently live in dire humanitarian situations.
Based on a Pew study, we can be over 95% confident that, as of 2020, over 3/4 of U.S. Jews say caring about Israel is an essential or important part of what being Jewish means to them, over half of U.S. Jews say they personally feel emotionally attached to Israel, and that over 2/5 of U.S. Jewish adults have been to Israel, over 1/5 of U.S. Jewish adults more than once. Meanwhile, we can be over 95% confident that a minority of U.S. Jews would rate Netanyahu’s leadership as good or excellent. At least 3/5 of U.S. Jews believe a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, but also believe that neither the Israeli government nor Palestinian leadership are making sincere efforts towards a peace settlement. Somewhere between 29% and 35% of U.S. Jews believe God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people; the majority of U.S. Jews do not believe this, even among U.S. jews who believe in god/higher power.
Zionism supports Israel’s continued existence, but need not support Israel’s government or policies. As of 2018 and 2019, a majority of U.S. Jews consider themselves generally pro-Israel while also critical of Israeli government policies. Somewhere between 0% and 8% of U.S. Jews consider themselves generally not pro-Israel. Many Zionists would argue that Israel’s policies need to change to preserve the state’s founding commitment to be “based on freedom, justice, and peace” and “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
Zionism is an umbrella term. While all Zionists support Israel’s continued existence, beyond this Zionists may share very little in common politically, even with respect to Israeli policy positions. Zionism’s founding figure is usually considered Theodor Herzl, whose “political zionism” was reflected in the movement to establish a secular socialist Jewish state. Traditional “Religious Zionists” believe that Jews have a biblical mandate to live in a “greater Israel” and they try to expand Israel’s borders, promoting settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. However, the majority of Zionists support an independent State of Palestine as Israel’s peaceful neighbor, believing that, like the Jewish people, Palestinians also deserve self-determination.
For some, Zionism’s ideals are about self-determination, about claiming agency and taking action for justice. This spirit of Zionism is captured in Theodor Herzl’s famous quote, “If you will it, it is no dream. And if you do not, a dream it is and a dream it will remain.” This change can be seen in the hidden curriculum of Jewish socialization as well. For example, in Reconstructionist and Reform households, the Hannukah story now tends to focus less on G-d’s miracle of the oil for the eternal light lasting for eight days when the Maccabees returned to the destroyed temple, and more on how the Maccabees successfully stood up against their powerful Greek oppressors. Many progressive Zionists find inspiration from this Zionist ethos in their drive to make a tangible difference that further social justice.
The Brandeis University Schusterman Center for Israel Studies has compiled a list of suggested resources regarding to help navigate the events of October 7 and the Israel-Hamas war.
Hey Alma’s “Guide to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”
The Third Narrative: Two states, peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians
“The Issues Driving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Progress is Possible, Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace
Traditional Israeli and Palestinian Narratives, Paul Scham, 2005
For more depth, see:
• “Shared Histories: A Palestinian-Israeli Dialogue“, Paul Scham, Walid Salem, Benjamin Pogrund, 2006
• “Shared Narratives“, Paul Scham, Benjamin Pogrund, As’ad Ghanem, 2013
• “Side by Side: Parallel Histories of Israel-Palestine” Sami Adwan, Dan Bar-On, Eyal Naveh, Peace Research Institute in the Middle East, 2012
Ecstasy and Amnesia in the Gaza strip, Shany Mor, Mosaic, 11/6/2023
Newspaper suggestion: Haaretz
“Nazism and the Palestinians,” Paul Schneider, JNS (2023)
“Photographic Evidence Shows Palestinian Leader Amin al-Husseini at a Nazi Concentration Camp” Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, Tablet (2021)
“Paul Schneider on the Holocaust’s Proper Place in Israel’s Memory” Marilyn Stern, Middle Eat Forum (2023)
There are problems with hatred and violence being institutionally sanctioned and socialized in Palestinian territories. This includes such matters as street names and plazas being named after terrorists (e.g., a plaza dedicated to Dalal Mughrabi) and textbooks that contain classical antisemitism as well as support for anti-Zionist ideology and violence.
• The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se)
• Palestinian Media Watch (tracking the Palestinian Authority’s promotion and glorification of terror)
The Palestinian government, rather than supporting the Palestinian people, has engaged in corrupt practices and gotten rich, from the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat to Hamas leaders becoming billionaires. Who else is culpable for the continuation of the conflict and lack of peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians? (e.g., Iran, Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Jordan, Egypt, etc. have all committed human rights violations against Israelis and Palestinians). Israel commits human rights violations, including against Palestinians. However, Palestinian institutions also further the conflict and oppress Palestinians. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have committed human rights violations against Israelis and Palestinians, including supporting a campaign of violence against Israeli civilians. They have long violated norms of academic freedom for Palestinians; Jordan and Egypt are also culpable here. Palestinians as scapegoat by Arab/Persian/Muslim world;
Perspectives on Far Left Critiques of Israel
“The Third Narrative: Progressive Answers to the Far Left’s Critique of Israel”, Ameinu, 22-page booklet, 2013.
Updated answers, “Tough Questions,” online here.
United Nations Watch is a Swiss non-governmental organization, established under Art. 60 of the Swiss Civil Code, whose mandate is to monitor the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter.
UN Watch’s executive director is: Hillel Neuer
This is a good organization and person to follow to get a sense of why oftentimes Jews are less than trusting of organizations like the United Nations or Amnesty International.
Antizionist activists try to reframe Israel through ideographs such as genocide, apartheid, colonialism, and racism. These are political attempts to demonize Israel and recast the relationship through a lens that paints Israel as a white Europeans colonial oppressor, with erasure of Jewish indigeneity and concerns about self-defense and existential threats. Some of these terms would be more fitting when applied in other ways (e.g., Hamas’ 10/7 attack as attempted genocide; the exodus of Mizrachi Jews in the 1940s and 1950s as ethnic cleansing). Some of these terms may apply to varying extents, like they do in other countries (e.g., some people label the United States as an apartheid country). However, for example with apartheid, while the legal definition of apartheid is pretty broad (basically any state with institutionalized systemic racism could qualify), the use of the term against Israel is usually a political one aimed to compare Israel to apartheid South Africa, a completely different situation (with a different solution) in which a government denied people in their state rights based on race. If Israel annexed the West Bank and Gaza, Israel would be an apartheid state. There are organizations that label Israel as apartheid that do so in more thoughtful ways, such as B’Tzelem, but their approach is that Israel has de facto annexation of the West Bank and Gaza (which were occupied by Jordan and Egypt from 1948 to 1967), which I think is accepting a position (that these territories are part of the Israeli state) that moves away from resolving this conflict. For responses to some of these terms, see the readings in: “Israel/Palestine: Readings Against the ‘Progressive’ Grain”
New Antisemitism, Anti-Zionism & Antizionism
After the State of Israel was established, anti-Zionism meant support for dismantling the State of Israel. Most anti-Zionism is antisemitic, but not all. Some people have philosophical views on nation-states that preclude their support for Israel (but not Israel alone – it’s a wider philosophy), though their views are not very practical for short-term movement forward. There are some fringe sects of Jews who think having a Jewish state in the land of Israel is against Jewish religious doctrine. However, uniquely opposing Jewish self-determination generally is antisemitic. We can be 95% confident that, as of July 2021, over 3/5 of U.S. Jews consider it is antisemitic to believe Israel doesn’t have the right to exist, and that somewhere between 5.5% and 12.5% of U.S. Jews do not believe Israel has the right to exist.
As the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism states, “Criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be considered antisemitic.” It is only when criticism attacks Israel specifically as a “Jewish collectivity.” The 3-D ‘test’ is an overly simplistic but useful tool to differentiate legitimate and antisemitic criticism of Israel (initially adopted by the U.S. State Department under President Obama a decade ago). Using the 3-D test, antisemitic criticism of Israel is that which crosses the line to:
• demonize Israel (in ways paralleling classical demonization of Jews),
• delegitimize Israel (it’s right to exist), or
• holds Israel to a markedly different standard than any other nation-state (double-standard)
The IHRA working definition is meant as a helpful and informative guide, not as a legal tool to adjudicate whether or not something is antisemitic. However, especially in response to concerns about its deployment, other working definitions and approaches to antisemitism have emerged, such as the Nexus document, which (controversially) attempts to clarify this further and tease apart how anti-Zionism and anti-Israel critiques and actions may or may not be antisemitic.
Scholarship on new antisemitism explores how the same traditional antisemitic tropes of demonization, blood libel, delegitimization, conspiracies, control, evil plans for domination, etc., are imposed on Israel as the ‘collective Jew.’ Jews are still the central actor in fostering bad in this world, but instead it is Israel that is responsible for the world’s problems. In both cases Jews are collectively used as a scapegoat for the problems the group identifies and then are also viewed as all-powerful plotters who use this power. For example, while traditional antisemitism falsely claims that Jews controlled the slave trade, contemporary antisemitism holds Israel responsible for George Floyd’s death, for all racist police brutality in the United States, and for 9/11. Conspiracy theories about COVID-19 blame Jews, Israel, or both as behind the virus.
“When Anti-Zionism Is Anti-Semitic”, Yair Rosenberg, The Atlantic, 2023
“Why the Most Educated People in America Fall for Anti-Semitic Lies,” Dara Horn, The Atlantic, 2024
Contemporary Left Antisemitism, book by David Hirsh (UK sociologist), 2017/2018
“Continuity and Discontinuity: From Antisemitism to Antizionism and the Reconfiguration of the Jewish Question” David Seymour, Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism, 2020
U.S. progressive Jews may expect antisemitism from the far right, but among their fellow progressives, the ideals of inclusion, community, and social justice set up an ideal that unfortunately is unrealized among some purported progressives.
• Letty Cottin Pogrebin, “Antisemitism in the Women’s Movement” (1982), Ms. Magazine
• “To My Fellow Progressives: Anti-Zionism is Antisemitism” Oren Jacobson, The Detroit Jewish News (2021)
• “On Israel, Progressive Jews Feel Abandoned by Their Left-Wing Allies” Jennifer Medina and Lisa Lerer (2023), New York Times
Contemporary left antizionist discourse has much of its roots in Soviet propaganda.
• “Soviet anti-ZIonism” Wikipedia
• “Soviet Anti-Zionism and Contemporary Left Antisemitism”, Izabella Tabarovsky (2019), Fathom
• “Red Terror: How the Soviet Union Shaped the Modern Anti-Zionist Discourse” Alex Ryvchin, Australian Institute of International Affairs, 2019
• “The Cult of ‘Antizionism'” Izabella Tabarovsky, 2023, Tablet Magazine
While anti-Zionists often claim Israel should not exist because no state should have a particular religion or ethnicity, this same outrage ignores the religious countries that exist around the world: see lists of religiously affiliated countries: Pew and World Data
Some people point to antizionist Jews to legitimate their own antizionism or even claim it is pro-Jewish. The leading antizionist Jewish group, “Jewish Voices for Peace,” is an antizionist group with perspectives radically counter to the bulk of world Jewry, and that can be relied on to excuse or deny antisemitism when it shows up around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
• JVP’s Dogmatic Anti-Zionism
• More on JVP, from ADL
BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions)
“BDS (Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions)”, NGO Monitor
As of 2022, (at the 95% confidence level) a majority of U.S. adults indicated they have heard “nothing at all” about the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, with over 4/5 having heard either nothing at all or “not much.” In this survey, 2% of U.S. adults had heard some or a lot about BDS and strongly support BDS, and another 3% had heard some or a lot about BDS and somewhat support it. In 2017, every U.S. governor came out in opposition to BDS.
According to a Pew study, we can be 95% confident that a majority of U.S. Jews have heard about the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement (somewhere between 21% and 27% have heard “a lot,” between 28% and 34% “some,” between 16% and 22% “not much,” and between 21% and 27% “nothing at all.”). We can be 95% confident that somewhere between 0% and 5% of all U.S. Jews strongly support the BDS movement and that the majority of U.S. Jews who have heard of BDS strongly oppose it.
BDS as anti-peace
BDS calls for a boycott of “all Israeli academic institutions,” “Israeli cultural institutions,…. all their products, and all the activities they sponsor or support“, and “all Israeli companies,” all of which BDS deems “complicit.” This includes excluding/expelling Israel from all international organizations (e.g., the United Nations, the Olympics) and boycotting any organization, including peace and social justice organizations, if they do not have an official position that Israel should not continue to exist, collaborations between Israeli civil society and other civil societies (including Israeli-Palestinian collaborations) where the Israeli partner has not taken an active stance that Israel should not continue to exist. Organizations are required to support BDS position of “right of return” for Palestinians, specifically to “homes and properties” (as opposed to other forms of “right of return” that have been considered for moving a negotiated peace settlement forward, to which even PA president Abbas has said would be acceptable.) Most Israelis view the insistence on BDS’ version of right of return to be an existential threat to Israel’s continued existence. BDS is also “anti-normalization,” meaning that engagement with the State of Israel normalizes that Israel is a nation-state and part of the world of nation-states. BDS explains how this applies to joint Israeli-Palestinian initiatives that are anti-occupation and support Palestinian statehood if they also support continued Israeli statehood. The BDS guidelines on academic boycotts explain that “normalization projects” are to be boycotted, such as “events, projects, or publications that are designed explicitly to bring together Palestinians/Arabs and Israelis so they can present their respective narratives or perspectives.” These guidelines state that such projects and activities are only allowed if, in addition to embracing the “right of return” component noted above, “the project/activity is one of “co-resistance” rather than co-existence.” Co-resistance provides a citation to this news article, “Co-Resistance vs. Co-Existence” by Maath Musleh, Ma’an News Agency, 2011, which makes it clear that the only allowable partner is the “Israeli that opposes Zionism,” arguing that “Zionism is not only the enemy of the Palestinians and Arabs, but also, the enemy of the Jews worldwide” and that “we oppose co-operating with the leftist Zionists who take part in demonstrations or call themselves peace activists.” This position stands in opposition to peace (see: “‘Anti-Normalization:’ Opposition to Cooperation for Peace and Justice, The Third Narrative, 2023).
This boycott therefore includes:
- Groups that bring together Israelis and Palestinians
(i.e. to foster humanization or empathy or perspective-sharing or call for peace) like Seeds of Peace and Women Wage Peace
- Organization that work for Palestinian rights that have not taken an actively anti-Zionist position
such as B’Tselem – the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, the Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement (that works to protect Palestinian academic freedom) and Breaking the Silence (an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers who are anti-occupation and speak about their experiences). Some of these organizations do not take political stances of any kind because they view them as counterproductive to being able to effectively do the type of work they are engaged in.
- domestic Israeli organizations working for social justice inside Israel that matter to marginalized Israelis, such as Women of the Wall (working for women’s prayer rights at the Western Wall), Standing Together (which works for justice for Jews and Arab Palestinians within Israel) and Aguda: The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel.
As a recent example, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a founding member of the BDS movement that puts together some of their boycott guidelines, put out a statement on BDS’s website attacking the group Standing Together, a grassroots solidarity movement of Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel organizing for peace, equality, and social and climate justice, and calling on “conscientious people, organizations, and unions around the world not to engage with Standing Together.” The Palestinian Members of the National Leadership of Standing Together wrote a response labeling the call to boycott Standing Together “infuriating.” One of the main differences, as can be seen in the two statements, is that the Palestinian leadership of Standing Together has an approach where, “We work under the basic assumption that millions of Palestinians and millions of Jews live in this land today, and no one is going anywhere.” For more information on Standing Together, see this article interviewing the Palestinian National Co-Director of Standing Together and visit the organization’s website.
In the United States, BDS has led to some organizations boycotting and refusing to participate in coalitions that include bedrock Jewish institutions like Jewish Federations, Hillel student organizations, The National Council of Jewish Women, and others.
BDS includes an academic boycott:
In a 2005 report on academic boycotts, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) outlined its position against systematic academic (as opposed to economic) boycotts, arguing they “threaten academic freedom” and “counter the free exchange of ideas.” The report was revisited in a 2013 AAUP statement that addressed BDS. In this statement, AAUP “recommend[s] that other academic associations oppose academic boycotts” and reiterates that systematic academic boycotts threaten academic freedom. AAUP again reiterated its opposition to BDS in a 2018 statement that states AAUP “oppose[s] all academic boycotts, including an academic boycott of Israel, on the grounds that such boycotts violate the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.”
In addition to academic freedom concerns, academic boycotts of Israel are counterproductive and stymy peace by targeting one of the institutions in Israeli society that is a most natural ally in moving towards peace, ending the occupation, and improving society for target groups within Israel. Indeed, Israeli historians have actually been on the forefront of complicating Israel’s narrative of its founding and independence in 1948 with documentation of examples of Palestinian expulsion and other human rights violations. An academic boycott includes all Israeli academic associations, including the Israeli Sociological Society. This is despite that the Israeli Sociological Society voted to sever ties with Ariel University, an Israeli university located in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, as the Israeli Sociological Society is an academic society for Israel and considers Ariel University to be outside Israel’s borders. The society’s chair who oversaw this implementation (and who opposes the occupation) opposes BDS and opposes an academic boycott of or within Israel proper. The society is also opposed to annexation and takes other positions one would expect from a contemporary association of sociologists.
BDS & Antisemitism
BDS as antisemitic
• “Why BDS Fails My 3D Test on anti-Semitism.” Natan Sharansky, Newsweek, 2019
• “BDS and Zionophobic Racism,” book chapter by Judea Pearl, 2018
• David Hirsh, UK sociologist
~Keynote speech (pamphlet): “BDS and Antisemitism” (2016)
~Blog post: “Why BDS is antisemitic” (2016)
~Blog post: “Opposing the campaign to exclude Israelis from the global academic community” (2014)
BDS & Delegitimization
BDS is often considered a method to delegitimize Israel’s existence. BDS opposes a two-state solution. See these quotes from BDS leaders and supporters. Omar Barghouti, who identifies as one of the co-founders of BDS, opposes Israel’s continued existence. In an interview, Barghouti stated BDS’s goals would “end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state” and goes further, stating regarding a one-state solution, “I am completely against binationalism.”
BDS & Demonization
Anti-Jewish boycotts preceded Zionism. Anti-Zionist boycotts pre-date Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza that began following the 1967 war. As can be seen in BDS guidelines, the BDS boycott is about Israel’s existence, not about borders or Palestinian territories.
BDS regularly employs antisemitic tropes, e.g., Jews as Christ-killers, as the anti-Christ/devil as octopuses, as pigs, featuring blood libel. This report has many examples.
“Behind the Mask: The Anti-Semitic Nature of BDS Exposed” (2022) (State of Israel)
The BDS Double-standard: on applying the same standards to all nation-states
Israel is frequently singled out for unique inclusion and treatment, while genocides and oppression across the rest of the globe, including by actors far worse than Israel, are often ignored. Global comparative analyses of human rights demonstrate there are many actors with human rights records known to be worse than Israel’s record, including on academic freedom. Of course people will be attracted to different movements for different reasons and will adopt different tactics for their cause to be strategic. However, there is a strange global focus of attention, at times an obsession, on Israel and on enacting BDS, that does not exist for the United States, China, Iran, Sudan, or other states. Israel regularly ends up being the only foreign policy item being considered, or subject to more interest at the United Nations and in fora than the rest of the world. Endorsing a boycott holds Israel to a different standard than the rest of the world, which reflects a continued double-standard often historically applied to Jews.
“Ilhan Omar Just Came Out Against Sanctions. So Why Does She Back BDS?” Daniella Greenbaum David (2019), The Forward
Inter-group workings for peace and understanding
Jewish and Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel co-organizing for a just and peaceful future
• https://www.facebook.com/standingtogether1 (This has different posts than the English account)
Parents Circle Families Forum
Brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost immediate family members to the I-P conflict.
Alliance for Middle East Peace
ALLMEP is a coalition of over 160 organizations—and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis—building cooperation, justice, equality, shared society, mutual understanding, and peace among their communities. We add stability in times of crisis, foster cooperation that increases impact, and build an environment conducive to peace over the long term.
• Coalition members
Kolot: Voices of Hope, Partners for Progressive Israel
Profiles of individuals and groups working for civil and human rights, social justice, peace, pluralism, and democracy
“When an ex-Fatah Palestinian ‘neighbor’ took up a Zionist author’s challenge.” David Horovitz, The Times of Israel, 2019.