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Is Anti-Zionism the New Anti-Semitism?

By June 14, 2018Culture7 min read

A Growing Consensus

Speaking at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Vel D’Hiv, an event in which over 13,000 French Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps by their own government, Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, called anti-Zionism a new form of anti-Semitism. Specifically addressing current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Macron said, “We will never surrender to the messages of hate; we will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a reinvention of anti-Semitism.”1 Following this declaration, senator Charles Schumer made similar remarks on the Senate floor in Washington D.C. He said;

“Anti-Semitism is a word that has been used throughout history when Jewish people are judged and measured by one standard and the rest by another. So it is with anti-Zionism; the idea that all other peoples can seek and defend their right to self-determination but Jews cannot; that other nations have a right to exist, but the Jewish state of Israel does not.”2

These statements add to the growing chorus of politicians and leaders who have come to recognize that much of what is being done under the banner of anti-Zionism is barely distinguishable from classical anti-Semitism.

The True Face of Anti-Zionism

Anti-Semitism is like a virus that mutates with the ever-changing cultural zeitgeist, always there, bubbling under the surface waiting for the right time to rear its ugly head. Britain’s ex-chief Rabbi Jonathon Sacks comments that:

“In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated because of their religion. In the 19th and 20th centuries they were hated because of their race. Today they are hated because of their nation state, Israel. Anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism.”3

With the increase of anti-Zionism, we are also seeing an increase in anti-Semitic incidents. The Community Security Trust (CST) has reported that anti-Semitic incidents in the UK have hit a record high in the first six months of 2017.4 Obviously, this cannot be blamed strictly on anti-Zionism, yet at the same time, the ideology of the movement has provided a fertile breeding ground for this new form of anti-Semitism to take root. The connection is most noticeable whenever conflicts flare up in the Middle East, and anti-Semitic incidents around the world spike. A clear example of individual Jews, many who have never lived in Israel, being targeted because of the actions of the state of Israel. Such facts mean it is now becoming obvious that the Israeli-Jewish conflation is the most popular form of anti-Semitism. Reporter Emma Barnett, writing for The Telegraph comments that:

“A new working definition of anti-Semitism, by the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), now includes ‘drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,’ and ‘holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.’ (It does, incidentally also state that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.'”5

Crossing the Line

Of course, many will protest vigorously that they are simply anti-Zionist and only disagree with the policies of the Israeli government, they are not in any way anti-Semitic, so it is wrong too equate the two. This is true, the two are not the same, but often they do morph into one and the same and become virtually indistinguishable. It is very important to realize that as a democracy, an imperfect democracy, criticism of Israel can be important for positive change. A valid, albeit negative criticism of Israeli policy should not be considered anti-Semitic. In a government consisting of both religious and secular groups, having those on the left and the right, you will not find fiercer debate about Israeli policies than within Israel itself. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote the following:

“Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction – out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East – is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.”6

In reality, I don’t think anyone is being labeled anti-Semitic for just criticizing Israeli policy; however, questions are being raised when condemnations of Israel cross the line from valid criticisms into denigration that could be classed as anti-Semitic. The line between the two can often be very difficult to judge “since this new anti-Semitism can hide behind the veneer of legitimate criticism of Israel.”7

The Three D Test for the New Anti-Semitism

Former minister Nathan Sharansky laid out the criteria for distinguishing these boundaries in his article “3D Test of Anti-Semitism.”8 The 3D’s of the new anti-Semitism are: demonization, double standards and delegitimization.

It is possible to find examples of all three D’s in the writings of the anti-Zionist movements. The accusations of racism and apartheid, along with Nazi comparisons, serve to both demonize and delegitimize the state of Israel. Perhaps the most obvious element is the shocking double standards applied to Israel. To speak of supposed Israeli “apartheid” whilst simultaneously ignoring the well documented gender, sexual and religious apartheid existing throughout the Middle East is to apply a double standard. To condemn Israel as one of the chief human rights violators in the world without condemning the rampant human rights violations by surrounding nations is a double standard. To claim that it is due to Israeli actions that we have no peace, without highlighting the many rejected peace offers made by Israel, without discussing the Khartoum Summit’s infamous “three No’s:” No peace with Israel; no negotiations with Israel; no recognition of Israel, and without addressing the charters of both the PA and Hamas that call for Israel’s destruction, is a double standard.

It is for these reasons that the world is slowly waking up to the fact that anti-Zionism, although politically focused, often resembles classical anti-Semitism. Again, there is nothing wrong with bringing forward legitimate criticism about the state of Israel, but where this criticism involves an attempt to demonize and delegitimize the state of Israel by applying double standards then this may properly be identified as the New anti-Semitism.


1 Kentish, Ben. Emmanuel Macron says anti-Zionism is a new type of anti-Semitism. Independent. 07/17/2017.
2 Kampeas, Ron. Schumer on the Senate floor calls anti-Zionism a form of anti-Semitism. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 07/17/2017.
3 Sacks, Jonathan. Anti-Zionism is the New Anti-Semitism, Says Britain’s Ex-Chief Rabbi. Newsweek Opinion. 04/03/2016.
4 Anti-Semitic Incidents Report January-June 2017.
5 Emma Barnett, ‘Somewhere Between the Holocaust and 2015 it Became OK to Blame Jews Again,’ Daily Telegraph. January, 15, 2015.
6 Friedman, Thomas. Campus Hypocrisy . New York Times. October 16, 2002.
7 The Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism. FAQ: The Campaign to Defame Israel.
8 Sharansky, Nathan. 3D Test of Anti-Semitism. CFCA December, 21, 2009.

Thomas Fretwell is senior pastor at Calvary Chapel Hastings. He has B.Th. and M.A. degrees in Theology and is currently undertaking Ph.D. research in a field related to Jewish-Christian studies. Thomas is also a tutor in Theology at King's Evangelical Divinity School where he teaches courses on Israel, Politics, and the Land and writes regularly for the school’s Jewish-Christian Study Center. An engaging speaker, Thomas regularly speaks to people of all ages on a variety of biblical topics and apologetics issues. In addition, he hosts the Theology & Apologetics podcast and is founder of The Ezra Foundation, which exists to produce resources that promote a biblical understanding of Israel in the plan of God.