By Sophie Ellman-Golan

NOTE: This document was created to aid leaders in multiracial movements for justice and democracy, with the understanding that organizing can be hindered by the use of all-too-common antisemitic tropes that, intentionally or unintentionally, harm Jewish people. In other words, if you want to organize alongside American Jews, this document is for you. 

This document will neither inoculate you from (fair or unfair) accusations of antisemitism, nor will it eliminate actual anti-Jewish biases you may have. However, this document will help you avoid specific types of anti-Jewish language that have been deeply embedded in how we talk about finance, conspiracies, ethnicity, media, and more.

There will always be those who will interpret criticism of Jewish individuals or of the State of Israel as antisemitism, and those who will go out of their way to deploy accusations of antisemitism to smear Muslim people and people of color (Jewish and non-Jewish alike). Those who oppose our movements are constantly looking for vulnerabilities and weaknesses to exploit, and antisemitism is a proven and effective wedge for undermining and dividing progressives. Our opposition’s simultaneous promotion of antisemitic conspiracy theories AND weaponization of false accusations of antisemitism are very much intentional. We must intentionally guard against both if we are to make our movements as strong as possible. 

A note about Zionism: Jewish movements that are critical of and/or opposed to Zionism are growing, but the Jewish community is far from united on the issue. This guide does not provide a definitive answer about that, nor is it a definitive manual on the “correct” things to say or think. Rather, this guide will help you understand the range of ways certain phrases may (1) be interpreted or heard by large segments of the Jewish community or (2) fuel antisemitism.For more in-depth learning about antisemitism, see the resources footnoted in this document and go to howtofightantisemitism.com/resources.

 

ISRAEL/PALESTINE

Focus on the influence someone or something has instead of referencing money or control

This can fuel antisemitism This is better
“There will never be peace in Israel-Palestine as long as the Israel lobby controls the press and Congress”
“The pro-Israel lobby, like so many other well-funded, special interest groups, has a disproportionate  impact  on our political discourse and is one of the leading obstacles to justice in Israel/Palestine.”
“AIPAC bought Congress” “AIPAC, along with weapons lobbies and right-wing Christian Evangelicals, incentivize U.S. politicians to push anti-Palestinian policies.”

Why it matters: (1) The idea that there is a nefarious conspiracy led by Jews — often through their money — to exert control over governments or other people has been used to incite violence against Jewish people for centuries. (2) The pro-Israel lobby is made up of a coalition of interests, including weapons lobbies, Christian Evangelicals, war hawks, and both Jewish and non-Jewish Zionists. For many people, AIPAC is the Jewish face of the Israel lobby (even though AIPAC also has many non-Jewish members). Over time, AIPAC has been used as a stand in for all of these other interest groups — and it is often described as wielding power in government in exceptional ways — instead of how any other powerful lobby works. Although you might not be talking about Jews when you reference AIPAC, you may be heard as if you are, especially if you fall into these tropes about money and power, which is why clarifying your point about who is wielding influence matters.

 

Avoid terms like “allegiance” or “loyalty” when talking about support for Israel

This can fuel antisemitism This is better
“Jews support Israel / Jews are loyal to Israel” “It’s true that most American Jews identify as ‘pro-Israel.’ It is also true that a significant number of American Jews are strongly critical of the Israeli government’s policies in the occupied territories.”
“All these politicians have an allegiance to Israel” “For too long, unquestioned support for Israeli governmental policy has been the norm in Washington, and anyone who questions this has been met with outright hostility.”

Why it matters: There’s an age-old antisemitic trope that Jews are never full citizens, but that we have a global network or “cabal” to which we are loyal or owe allegiance. Today, that same trope often manifests as the suggestion that Jews’ primary loyalty is to Israel — or at the very least that Jews have a “dual loyalty” to Israel and to the country where we hold citizenship — and that we might undermine our country at any moment to serve Israel. This a dangerous trope that has been used to incite suspicion of Jews, as well as encourage attacks on Leftists (the classic example being McCarthyism, which itself was dripping with antisemitism), and to denigrate Catholics. It also paves the way for suspicion of other religious minorities and immigrants. This trope also ignores that there have always been Jews who do not support the Israeli government, and their numbers are growing rapidly.

 

Be intentional when you use the word “Zionist” and make sure you aren’t just using it as a stand-in for “Jew.” The term means so many different things to different people, that you will almost certainly be misunderstood by someone. Some tips for getting your point across:

This can fuel antisemitism This is better
“They were bought and paid for by Zionist hush money.” “The pro-Israel lobby, from AIPAC to CUFI, got what they paid for.” 
“Zionists control the government” “The pro-Israel lobby has a lot of influence.”

Why it matters: Not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jews, but the two can be heard as interchangeable unless specified otherwise. Christian Zionists are a huge part of the pro-Israel lobby, but unless you clarify that you aren’t just speaking about Zionist Jews, it will sound like you are — and like you’re using the antisemitic trope of Jewish control/money. 

 

This can fuel antisemitism This is better
“Zionism is racism” “Israel, like the United States, is a racist country.”
“White supremacists and Zionists are attacking us.” “White supremacists and right-wing Zionists are attacking us.”

Why it matters: We must hold both of these realities at once: (1) For many Jewish people, Zionism and Israel’s founding meant safety for their families, particularly for Jewish refugees who fled ongoing violence after Holocaust. And (2) for Palestinians, Israel is the source of the dispossession and violent oppression of their people that continues to this day. Regardless of individual Zionists’ intentions, Zionism has had and continues to have a devastating, racist, and violent effect on Palestinian people. Most Palestinians are anti-Zionist because Zionism in practice is the cause of their dispossession. When some hear “Zionism,” they hear “Apartheid.” When others hear “Zionism,” they hear “Jewish self-determination and safety.” Many Jewish people associate Zionism with “self-determination and safety” — although there are and have always been Jewish people who explicitly oppose Zionism, including because they don’t believe it makes Jewish people more safe and because they oppose what Zionism has meant for Palestinians. To make matters even more confusing, both conservative Israel supporters and antisemites have successfully conflated “Jew” and “Zionist” in dominant public discourse. Because of the prevalence of this conflation, it is often hard for Jews to know what someone talking about “Zionists” really means. This document won’t settle the debate about the “true” meaning of the word. However, if this debate is one you want to have, the advice in this document will at least help you avoid antisemitic tropes while doing so.

Tip: Clarifying what you mean by Zionism can help you avoid alienating or drawing criticism from those who are generally leftists and are critics of the Israeli government and the occupation, but who also identify as Zionists because they operate under the self-determination definition.

Agitation: Ask yourself if the point you are making is specifically about Zionism, or if it is about colonialism? It might be specifically about and against Zionism — and criticism of Zionism is valid and important. But it also might apply more broadly to colonialism and settler colonialism, and that matters, particularly right now, amidst the global surge of ethnonationalism and authoritarianism that’s taking place in India, Brazil, the United States, Israel, Hungary, the United Kingdom, and more.    

 

JEWS AND ETHNICITY

Be mindful of the ways Jews and people of color are pitted against each other, and that these identities aren’t mutually exclusive 

This can fuel antisemitism This is better
“Jews oppress people of color” “White Jews are complicit in a system of oppression that oppresses people of color — including Jews of color”
“The Jewish lobby always goes after Palestinian activists and people of color.” The pro-Israel lobby actively works to silence those who advocate for Palestinian liberation, particularly activists of color.”

Why it matters: (1) Not all Jews are white! And some people of color are Jewish! (2) The ideas that [white] Jews are uniquely racist, just as the idea that [non-Jewish] people of color are uniquely antisemitic, are part of an intentional effort to divide communities against each other. The truth of the matter is that we all absorb biases from the world, and we all have to work to unlearn them. 

About the word “Semite”

You may have heard phrases like “Black people are the real Semites” or “Palestinians are the real Semites” at some point in your life. Those assertions touch on a lot of different things: (1) White supremacy has shaped the contemporary way biblical tales are told and portrayed in the media. Correcting the lily-white and extremely faulty record on that is important. (2) “Semite” describes an ethnic category of people from southwestern Asia who speak semitic languages like Hebrew, Arabic, Amharic, and others. Jews and non-Jews alike from that region are technically Semites but the word is not regularly used. The word “antisemite” was popularized in Germany in the 19th Century in an effort to make hatred of Jews sound scientifically-based and therefore more valid. The term “antisemitism” does not mean discrimination against everyone who falls in this ethnic group; it specifically means discrimination against Jews. (3) Statements about the “real” Semites suggest that Jews are lying about Jewish identity or Jewish ethnicity, which plays on antisemitic tropes that Jews are inherently deceitful. AND, these statements imply that Jews are ethnically homogenous, white, and Ashkenazi, which is untrue. 

At the end of the day, “antisemitic” has been used to reference hatred of Jews for over one hundred years. Redirecting a conversation about antisemitism to a semantic argument about the word will come off as a defensive approach that does not engage with the reality of anti-Jewish oppression. 

This can fuel antisemitism This is better
“Palestinians are the real Semites” “Arab Jews and Palestinians lived side-by-side for many years before the State of Israel was established.”

 

DEHUMANIZATION

Avoid using the word “devil” or terms like “enemies of Jesus,” “hypnotize,” or “bloodthirsty” 

This can fuel antisemitism This is better
“Stephen Miller is a devil.” “Stephen Miller is a horrible person with no moral compass and he will go down in history as the heartless racist he is.”
“Jesus had enemies too” “Great leaders have always had enemies. The Romans came for Jesus, white America came for MLK.”  
“The IDF’s bloodthirsty tactics must be condemned.” “The IDF’s cruel and ruthless tactics must be condemned.” 

Why it matters: Medieval Christian antisemitism held that Jews were devils with horns, Christ-killers, and drank the blood of Christian children (really — and that dehumanizing belief has been repackaged and repopularized into QAnon conspiracy theory today). This was used as justification for extreme violence against Jewish communities, and even the expulsion of Jews from Christian countries. 

 

Avoid using language or imagery that compares Jews, Jewish people with power, or Jewish companies as rats, vermin, insects, snakes, octopuses, squids, or vampires

This can fuel antisemitism This is better
“Zuckerberg and Facebook have their tentacles everywhere.” “Facebook is a harmful monopoly with way too much control over social media and political discourse.”
“Michael Cohen is a rat.” “Michael Cohen dished all the dirt on Trump.”  

Why it matters: Nazi propaganda utilized imagery of Jews as rats, insects, and octopuses to encourage hatred, fear, and dehumanization of Jews. This imagery is used to this day, with cartoons depicting George Soros as an octopus encircling the world. These images and comparisons trigger real fear and horror, because they historically precede upticks in violence against Jews. Dehumanization is a tried and true tactic — not just against Jews — used to justify hatred and genocide. Using these words or comparisons to talk about anyone or any group of people is ill-advised. 

 

Stay away from “puppet-master” language or imagery 

This can fuel antisemitism This is better
“Sheldon Adelson is pulling the Republican Party’s strings” “Billionaire donors like Sheldon Adelson [and the Koch brothers] have a lot of say when it comes to the Republican Party’s priorities.”
“Trump doesn’t know a thing about immigration policy. We all know Stephen Miller is the puppet-master.” “Trump doesn’t know a thing about immigration policy. We all know Stephen Miller is responsible for what’s bring done.”

Why it matters: The notion that a shadowy group of people are working behind the curtain and pulling the strings around world events, governments, and political movements is a centuries-old antisemitic conspiracy — one promoted in the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion and that has been used to incite violence against Jews and others. Nazi propaganda often depicted Jews as puppet-masters, and right-wing cartoonists do the same today

 

Specify when you say “they” to whom you are referring 

This can fuel antisemitism This is better
“They are trying to divide us.” “The political right is trying to divide us.”

Why it matters: Because Jews are often seen and referred to as a shadowy manipulative force working behind-the-scenes, the ambiguous “they” can be interpreted as a reference to Jews, even when it isn’t! This is particularly important when it comes to discussion of Israel. The standard assumption is that Jews are the sole interest group in the pro-Israel lobby, when in reality, that lobby it is also heavily funded and promoted by Evangelical Christians like Christians United for Israel (CUFI), whose active membership base is larger than the entire American Jewish population — to say nothing of the weapons manufacturers who are also invested in the so-called “special relationship” between the United States and Israel.

 

MONEY, MEDIA, AND POWER

Remember that certain professions or groups, like landlords and bankers, are stereotypically associated with Jews, and be mindful of ways those stereotypes might impact your language

This can fuel antisemitism This is better
“Jews hold all the money / Jews are good with money / Jews own the banks” “Big financial institutions banks like Citibank, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, are too big and unaccountable. So are hedge funds. They have too much power over our lives, and the government must regulate them properly.”

Why it matters: While the “good with money” stereotype might be intended as a compliment, it’s sort of like saying “Black people are good at basketball.” It might sound like a compliment, but it is really about reducing entire demographics to a stereotype — one that stems from a history of violence. The idea that Jews secretly own or control certain industries or wealth has been used as a justification for, and to incite violence against, Jewish people for centuries. Antisemitic laws in Europe restricted Jewish workers to specific industries, like money-lending, and then used the prevalence of Jews in that industry to spread antisemitic tropes about Jewish control over money. Also, not all Jews are wealthy. There are many poor and working class Jewish communities, and they should not be erased. 

Tip: If you need to comment on or explain this stereotype, you could say: “This is a capitalism problem, not a Jewish problem.” 

 

This can fuel antisemitism This is better
“Jews own the media / Jews control Hollywood / Jews have all the power” “Companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Sinclair Media have too much power over our news, information, and data.”

Why it matters: The idea that Jews secretly own or control certain industries or wealth has been used as a justification for and to incite violence against Jewish people for centuries. It is true that many Jews hold prominent positions in certain industries like Hollywood or Wall Street, but in reality, numbers-wise, Christians own far more media companies and wield more influence in Hollywood than Jews. Jewish hypervisibility in these industries is in part because Jewish names stand out more than “normal” (read: European Christian) names, but it is also a continuation of the middleman position Jews have been placed in for centuries serving as the visible face of power (and oppression), shielding the architects of power from the inevitable anger of the oppressed. This occurred when Jews bore the brunt of anger from serfs rising up against their bourgeois exploiters; when Jews became he face of the opposition to the Women’s March after a news cycle reignited by the non-Jewish Alyssa Milano; and when President Trump called for Rep. Ilhan Omar’s resignation in the name of “defending” Jews.

Tip: If you need to comment on or explain this stereotype, you could say: “There’s a stereotype that Jews control Hollywood or the media. First of all, it’s just not true when you look at the numbers. But it is true that we hear about Jewish billionaires and business tycoons so much more than we do about the non-Jewish ones. It’s worth asking ourselves why that is and who benefits from it.”

 

This can fuel antisemitism Try this
“My Jewish landlord won’t fix a busted pipe in my apartment” “My landlord won’t fix a busted pipe in my apartment”

Why it matters: It’s not actually relevant if your landlord is or is not Jewish.  Terrible Jewish landlords are terrible because they are landlords, not because they are Jewish. Also, there are structural reasons Jewish landlords often rent to Black and Brown families: The system of redlining, which denied of housing to non-white renters or buyers for purely racist reasons, also excluded white Jews for a long time. Simply put, Jews were the second-to-last people a racist housing system let into many neighborhoods. As a result, Jews often rented to the last people: Black and Brown folks.