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Anti-Semitism: Prejudice and Discrimination Against Jews
When Does Criticism of Israel Become Anti-Semitism
Frequently Asked Questions
Responding to Anti-Israel Campaigns on College and University Campuses
When Does Criticism of Israel Become Anti-Semitism
Updated: January 20, 2009

Anti-Semitism and Criticism of Israel

The sovereign State of Israel and its government can be legitimately criticized just like any other country or government in the world. Criticism of particular Israeli actions or policies is not anti-Semitic.

How can one distinguish between criticism of Israel that is within the bounds of legitimate political discourse, and that which crosses the line into anti-Semitism? Context and choice of terms can be very telling when differentiating between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism.

One way to make this distinction is to recognize when those who criticize Israel invoke traditional anti-Jewish references, accusations and conspiracy theories, for example, when Israelis are depicted using Der Sturmer* like centuries old stereotypes (i.e., hooked noses; bent over, dark, ugly, demonic figures). Additional examples are when Israelis are accused of crimes that are reminiscent of age-old anti-Jewish conspiracy theories (e.g., alleged Israeli/Jewish plans for world domination, accusations that a Jewish cabal [elders of Zion] is behind Israel’s strength or behind foreign policy that is favorable to Israel, or allegations of Israeli actions that are derivative of medieval blood libels).
Another common anti-Semitic theme has become the comparison of Israelis to Nazis and Israeli leaders to Hitler. This comparison between the Jewish state and those who perpetrated the greatest act of anti-Semitism in world history is not an impartial or dispassionate accusation.  This is a charge that is purposefully directed at Jews in an effort to associate the victims of the Nazi crimes with the Nazi perpetrators and serves to diminish the significance and uniqueness of the Holocaust; making such a comparison is an act of blatant hostility toward Jews and Jewish history.

Finally, deeper bias against Israel and Jews may be evident when Israel is held to a different standard than any other country in the world. For example, when critics of Israel question or deny Israel’s right to exist simply because there is disagreement with their policies, but similarly do not question other countries’ (e.g., France or Jordan) right to exist.  Similarly, questions of bias arise when Israel is singled out for harsh criticism or rebuke for actions or policies in which other nations around the world engage without similar censure.

ADL’s advocacy manual, Israel: A Guide for Activists, can be used as a reference for further exploring the nuances of criticism of Israel and when such criticism crosses the threshold to anti-Semitism. See

* Der Stürmer was a weekly Nazi newspaper published by Julius Streicher from 1923 to the end of World War II in 1945.

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Fighting Back: A Handbook for Responding to Anti-Israel Rallies on College and University Campuses (.pdf - 248kb requires Acrobat Reader )
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