Understanding Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism

Read the Action Plan for Combating Antisemitism 2013 and Beyond here.

The Jewish community of Canada is the country’s most frequent target of hatred and discrimination. According to successive reports issued by Statistics Canada, the Jewish community is victimized by hate- and bias-motivated crime at a rate that, from 2002-2008, ranged from 15 to 25 times higher than the overall population. Moreover, these statistics only take into account antisemitic occurrences that rise to the level of criminal behaviour. The singling out of Jews for discriminatory treatment is still antisemitism, even when it does not manifest itself criminally.

Recently, distinctions between classic antisemitism and anti-Zionism have blurred if not evaporated altogether. For the uninitiated, this assertion may not be immediately clear, since antisemitism is conventionally understood as hatred or action directed against Jews, whereas anti-Zionism is often couched “merely” as rejection of the national movement of the Jewish people.

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Anti-Zionismthe denial of the Jewish people’s national aspirations and right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland – represents a new effort to single out Jews and demand that they adhere to a standard expected of no other nation in the world. The delegitimization of the Jewish State is simply the transfer of anti-Jewish vilification from the individual to the national level – i.e. to the State of Israel.  We often hear anti-Zionists say that they are not antisemitic. But, at the same time, they refuse to accord the Jewish people the same right to self-determination recognized for every other nation.

In 2004, the European Union’s Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia published a working definition of antisemitism that included:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it [i.e. Israel] behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons between contemporary Israeli policy and that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.

It is important to note that criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. As the Ottawa Protocol on Combating Antisemitism notes:

Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic, and saying so is wrong. But singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium – let alone denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction – is discriminatory and hateful, and not saying so is dishonest.

A simple way to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism is to apply the 3-D test:

  • Demonization – When Israel is depicted as essentially irredeemable, for example when it is compared to Nazi Germany.
  • Double Standard – When Israel is condemned for events, decisions, or circumstances for which other states are not similarly condemned.
  • Delegitimization – When Israel’s fundamental right to exist as a Jewish state (as recognized by the UN in the 1947 Partition Plan) is denied.


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