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When does anti-Zionism become antisemitism?


Posted 21 February 2014. Addendum added 20 June 2016.

A few years ago I was quite surprised when Jonathan Hoffman making the first comment underneath my August 2010 Jewish Chronicle blog post “antisemitism amongst Muslims – a personal view[This blog is no longer on the Jewish Chronicle website. I have linked to the article on my website, but this does not have Jonathan Hoffman's comment.] stated categorically “To deny the Jews a homeland - the essence of Zionism - is indeed antisemitic, see the EUMC Definition of Antisemitism.”

This can be illustrated diagrammatically:

All anti-Ziionists are anti-Semites

I had not encountered this proposition, or indeed the definition, before. Since all right-thinking people, including of course me, abhor antisemitism it is attractive for advocates of Israel to claim that to be "anti-Israeli" or "anti-Zionist" (definitions to be considered later) is automatically to be antisemitic.

While I responded to Jonathan Hoffman by making a further comment under my blog I concluded that, as the point is often raised, it deserved a more detailed analysis. Although over three years have elapsed, the point is still highly relevant.

Defining the terms

Arguments of this type are bedevilled by people using terms without agreeing their definition, or by subtly distorting the definitions because it suits their argument. Indeed, once one has agreed definitions, there is often very little left to argue about.


"Anti-Semitism" or "antisemitism"?

Page 11 of the EUMC report explains why they use "antisemitism".

In the present report, the term “antisemitism” will be used when referring to anti-Jewish thinking as well as attitudes and acts of prejudice and/or hostility against Jews (as Jews) after 1945. The notation “antisemitism” will be given preference to the notation “anti-Semitism”. This allows for the fact that there has been a change from a racist to a culturalist antisemitism, and in this context helps to avoid the problem of reifying (and thus affirming) the existence of races in general and a “Semitic race” in particular.

The single non-hyphenated word also sidesteps the word play argument that Arabs cannot be antisemitic as they are Semites themselves. As explained in my piece Antisemitism amongst Muslims – a personal view the clear English language meaning is hatred of Jews specifically.

Microsoft Word's spell-checker uses "anti-Semitism." However the UK All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism gets the spelling right. In the past I have tended to use Microsoft's spelling, but I have now standardised on antisemitism. However I am not changing the URL of this or other web pages to avoid breaking links that people may have created.

This box added on 23 February 2014.

The EUMC definition mentioned by Jonathan Hoffman was prepared by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) which published a report called Manifestations of Antisemitism in the EU 2002 – 2003. One of the findings of this report was that there was no agreed definition of antisemitism. See page 11 in the executive summary. Accordingly the EUMC devised a working definition of antisemitism.

The work of the EUMC has now been taken over by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). An article on the Independent newspaper blog site in December 2013 explained that the FRA had now retired the working definition of antisemitism. However in view of its previous widespread dissemination, I will use the EUMC definition for my analysis. The definition is quite short and printed in bold text on the EUMC’s page:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

It is essential to appreciate that the text quoted above is the full extent of the definition. I do not regard it as controversial.

All of the rest of the page consists of commentary illustrating circumstances where antisemitism may exist. The very next sentence reads "In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” Lower down on the page there is further illustration where antisemitism may be expressed with regard to the state of Israel:

“Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

It is important to note the qualifiers above, which I have highlighted using coloured text.


I am not aware of a standard definition of anti-Zionism. The Wikipedia article on Zionism shows that there are many alternative definitions of Zionism.

The meaning of Zionism

The World Zionist Organisation’s Mission Statement includes the following:

“The World Zionist Organization was founded at the initiative of Theodore Herzl at the First Zionist Congress which took place in August 1897 in Basle, Switzerland.

 When it was founded, the goals of the Zionist movement were stated in a resolution that came of that Congress and came to be known as the “Basle Program.”

Zionism aims at establishing for the Jewish people a legally assured home in Eretz Yisrael. To achieve this purpose, the following means shall be employed:

The Jewish Virtual Library (JVL) entry on Zionist Congress:  First Zionist Congress & Basel Program explains that the precise wording of the Basle Program was contentious at the Congress. It helps to look at the precise words, which differ slightly from what the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) website gives. The JVL gives:

“Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz­Israel secured under public law. The Congress contemplates the following means to the attainment of this end:

  1. The promotion by appropriate means of the settlement in Eretz-Israel of Jewish farmers, artisans, and manufacturers.
  2. The organization and uniting of the whole of Jewry by means of appropriate institutions, both local and international, in accordance with the laws of each country.
  3. The strengthening and fostering of Jewish national sentiment and national consciousness.
  4. Preparatory steps toward obtaining the consent of governments, where necessary, in order to reach the goals of Zionism.”

As the original text would have been in German, the small differences from the WZO version may be due to translation into English.

As the Basle Program uses the term “Eretz-Israel” one needs to define that also. The Wikipedia entry “Land of Israel”  explains that Eretz-Israel is simply Hebrew for the land of Israel. However that leaves open the question of its borders. The article shows a number of alternative maps, depending on what parts of the Hebrew Bible one uses.

Looking at the Basle Program, Zionism has only one goal: “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz­Israel secured under public law.” The rest of the text cited above refers to mechanisms to help to achieve that goal. The Basle Program does not specify the whole of Eretz-Israel, although that may have been in the minds of Congress delegates.

In 1947 the United Nations, which since its establishment has been the key source of international legal legitimacy, resolved to partition Palestine to provide for a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. The Jewish community in Palestine accepted the partition plan, the Palestinian community did not. After the military conflict which followed, the 1949 armistice line bore some resemblance to the UN partition plan, but leaving Israel within larger boundaries. The state of Israel was then admitted to membership of the United Nations, and is today recognised by the overwhelming majority of countries.

Accordingly, one can argue that the goal of Zionism has been achieved. The question then is what does it mean to be an anti-Zionist today?

The meaning of anti-Zionism today

Many alternative formulations appear possible. Some of these are itemised below, labelled to identify them. More alternative definitions could be devised.


Belief that the Basle Program could not be accomplished without overriding the rights of the Palestinians who already lived in the land. (See my review of Herzl’s ‘The Jewish State’.) Acceptance that historical wrongs occurred, and were committed by both parties. Acceptance that the State of Israel exists today with a 75% Jewish majority and that this is a legal and historical fact that cannot be reversed without further injustice to many people. The borders of the State of Israel to be negotiated and agreed with the Palestinians, with the 1949 armistice line as the starting point of the negotiations.


Belief that separation between Jews living in the West Bank and Palestinians is no longer possible, and that a single binational state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan is the only just solution, even if this results in an eventual Arab majority in the state due to demographic change.


Belief that the immigration of European Jews (and Jews from Arab countries) into Palestine was so wrong that it should be reversed, with the Jewish population expelled so that Palestine becomes an entirely non-Jewish state.

Attitudes of anti-Semites and anti-Zionists

Strictly speaking, this is an empirical question. One need to find anti-Semites and ask them about their attitudes to Zionism, and to find anti-Zionists (whether category A, B, C or some other category) and ask them about their attitudes to Jews.

However it is possible to make some comments based upon general knowledge of people and some logical thinking.

Anti-Semites are almost never Zionists

If someone hates Jews, they are logically unlikely to support the establishment of “a home for the Jewish people in Eretz­Israel secured under public law.”

The only exception that I can think of are some extremist Christians, some of whom are antisemitic, who regard the gathering of the Jews into Palestine as a necessary pre-condition for the second coming of Jesus, after which they look forward to the Jews being killed in the conflicts of Armageddon. While there are some such people about, they are few and do not refute the general proposition that anti-Semites are almost never Zionists.

Accordingly, the set of anti-Zionists includes all (ignoring tiny exceptions of the type discussed above) anti-Semites.

All anti-Semites are anti-Zionist

The key issue is the size of the region outside the set of anti-Semites but inside the set of anti-Zionists. Is it large, small or non-existent?

Anti-Zionism A

I suspect that most anti-Semites pay little attention to the finer points of history; they simply hate Jews. However if they were asked about the history, I would expect almost all people who hate Jews to sign up to anti-ZionismA.

Conversely I believe there are very many people who hold the views that define anti-ZionismA who do not hate Jews. Indeed many of them are Jewish, including some notable Israeli historians. That leads to the following diagram, where many anti-ZionistsA are not antisemitic.

Many anti-ZionistsA are not anti-Semitic


I think this is much more complex.

Some people, including some Israeli Jews, argue for a single binational state because they see it as the only just way forward that is achievable, since they regard separation as no longer possible. I suspect that very few, if any, of these people hate Jews.

That would lead to essentially the same diagram as above, with most anti-ZionistsB not being antisemitic.

Many anti-ZionistsB are not anti-Semitic

Conversely some people argue for a binational state because they see this as a stepping stone towards a Palestinian majority, after which the power of the state can be used to steadily worsen the position of Jews until they are, in the most extreme case, expelled. I would expect people who hold such views to harbour a hatred of Jews.

That would lead to a diagram which has most anti-ZionistsB as also being antisemitic.

Most anti-ZionistsB are anti-Semitic

Theoretical analysis does not tell us which of the above two alternatives is applicable. Instead, it is an empirical question that can only be resolved by measuring the beliefs of those who advocate a single binational state.


With so many other greater wrongs in recent history, I find it hard to believe that people who adhere to anti-ZionismC are not motivated by hatred of Jews.

That would lead to the following diagram:

All anti-ZionistsC are anti-Semitic


While the above analysis may seem like casuistry “Specious or excessively subtle reasoning intended to rationalize or mislead”, I believe that it helps one to think about the issues more clearly, using the second definition of casuistry “The determination of right and wrong in questions of conduct or conscience by analysing cases that illustrate general ethical rules.”

It shows the critical importance of defining ones terms.

Depending upon the definitions used, at one extreme one expects almost all anti-Zionists to be anti-Semites; and at the other extreme one expects relatively few anti-Zionists to be anti-Semites.

My approach is that where a term is too elastic, I avoid using it. My piece “Time to retire Islamism?” explains why, wherever possible, I avoid using the word “Islamism”.

The Google site search box makes it easy to review every instance of my usage of the term “Zionism” on every page of my website. Such a search shows that I have only ever used the term in a historical descriptive sense. In particular I have never described myself as either a Zionist or an anti-Zionist.

The contested meaning of the words means that I am never likely to do so.


I will publish here links to any response articles that appear worth sharing.

On 24 February 2014 Sarah Brown @SarahAB_UK wrote "Antisemitism and anti-Zionism: a response to Mohammed Amin" on the website Engage.


In June 2016 I revisited the issue in my piece "When is being anti-Israeli evidence that you are antisemitic?"

That does not change the conclusions above, but slightly refines my way of analysing the question.


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