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

What Is Anti-Semitism?

Anti-Semitism is a form of hatred, mistrust, and contempt for Jews based on stereotypes and myths and often invokes the belief that Jews have extraordinary influence with which they conspire to harm or control society.  It can target Jews as individuals, as a group or a people or Israel as a Jewish entity. Sometimes criticism of Israel or Zionism is anti-Semitic when it uses anti-Jewish stereotypes or invokes anti-Semitic symbols and images, or holds Jews collectively responsible for all actions of the State of Israel, This kind of intense hostility toward Israel, distinct from legitimate critique of Israel’s policy, has been linked with increases in anti-Semitic violence.

Anti-Semitism has existed over many centuries and the negative stereotypes it draws on have taken hold in the popular culture and thought of many societies.  It can take the form of hate speech, discrimination, or violence against people or property.  It may target individuals or communities on small or large scales.  The most extreme example of this was the Nazi regime’s organized plan to exterminate the Jews through the Holocaust.

Common Anti-Semitic Myths and Stereotypes:
  • Jews are cheap, greedy, “crooks,” cheaters, or they are rich, good with money, materialistic,
  • Jews control society, the banks, media, Hollywood, the government,
  • Jews are disloyal to their country, and trying to secretly undermine and control the world
  • Jews are a distinct and inferior race
  • Jews exaggerate or exploit the tragedy of the Holocaust to invoke guilt and sympathy
  • Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus
  • Jews think they are better than everyone else, the biblical concept of chosen people is twisted to charge Jews with wanting to dominate or harm other groups

Why Is Hatred of Jews Called “Anti-Semitism?”

The origin of the term “anti-Semitism” is important to understand. There is no belief system called “Semitism” that one can be opposed to, nor is there a “Semitic” ethnic or racial group. The word “anti-Semitism” is generally attributed to Wilhelm Marr, a German agitator. Marr used the German term “Antisemitismus” in a book entitled “The Way to Victory of Germanicism over ‘Judaism,’” published in 1879. Marr claimed that “scientific” research into the characteristics of the Jewish “race” justified hatred for Jews.  In the same year his book was published, Marr founded a political party, “The League of Antisemites,” which campaigned for the expulsion of Jews from Germany. Just over half a century later, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party took this racially based hatred for the Jews a deadly step further when they exterminated six million Jews in what was described as “The Final Solution.”

There are two important aspects to understanding the origins of the word “anti-Semitism.” The first is that “anti-Semitism” was popularized as a term not by Jews themselves, but by individuals and political groups who openly proclaimed their hatred of the Jewish people. The second is that “anti-Semitism” refers solely to hatred directed against Jews. The interpretation that Arabs are “Semites” and therefore cannot be anti-Semitic (or that they are also victims of anti-Semitism) is not based in the historical origins of the term, which make clear that “anti-Semitism” was designed to refer to Jews alone.  Had the terms “anti-Judaism” or “anti-Jewism” been utilized instead, there would not even be any confusion regarding their meaning; however, the term “anti-Semitism” was chosen in order to cloak the hatred of Jews in a supposed scientific respectability.



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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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