Antisemitism defined: Holding Jews responsible for the State of Israel’s actions - World Jewish Congress

Antisemitism defined: Holding Jews responsible for the State of Israel’s actions

Antisemitism defined: Holding Jews responsible for the State of Israel’s actions

Antisemitic flyer posted in Long Branch, New Jersey, June 2018.

The eleventh and final example in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism addresses one of the oldest antisemitic canards, whereby Jewish citizens are “collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.”  

This allegation is simply a contemporary example of the “dual loyalty” charge against the Jewish people, whereby antisemites claim that the true allegiance of Jews is to their fellow Jews and that therefore they are inherently disloyal citizens and cannot be trusted. Accusing Jewish citizens of the Diaspora of being responsible for actions of the State of Israel is implicitly arguing that Jews are not truly citizens, at least not loyal ones, but rather are loyal to the State of Israel.  

Conflating Israeli policy with Diaspora Jewry implies that Jews are to blame for the decisions of the sovereign Israeli government, a territory in which they do not live. The allegation furthers conspiracy myths about Jewish world domination, which have historically been used to claim that Jews control the media, banks, and governments and is rooted in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  

This antisemitic trope, which has existed for thousands of years, has been used to scapegoat, harass, and vilify Jews, and at times has even led to murder.  

This canard is different from the concern over a conflict of interest, which occurs when individual relationships or interests may influence decisions or actions but is not dependent on an individual’s identity. Rather, the dual loyalty charge levied against Jews is inherently designed to target and discredit them and to call into question their loyalty to their country of residence simply because they are Jewish— to portray them as a dangerous fifth column. 

According to Dr. Deborah E. Lipstadt, the Biden administration’s envoy to combat antisemitism, “The dual loyalty canard that has plagued Jews is the fertile soil in which centuries of these stereotypes have taken root and grown.” 

“People were willing to believe it, even though the evidence from the very outset was shaky, because it made sense to them. They had been so exposed to this stereotype, it had become so much the pivot point and the central element of antisemitism that Jews have other loyalties, that it seemed like it must be true, and they were ready to believe the worst,” Lipstadt said.  

“In its most extreme form, the charge of dual loyalty amounts to an accusation of treason," said Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld. 

What the allegation doesn’t mean 

While denouncing the antisemitic canard of dual loyalty is essential, it does not mean that the emotional connections of Diaspora Jews to Israel or their fellow Jews must be denied. Indeed, polls consistently demonstrate a strong appreciation for Israel among Diaspora Jews, whether in America or elsewhere. 

There are many wide-ranging reasons for the strong connection felt by Diaspora Jews to Israel, including, but not limited to: ideology, religion, family ties, and an appreciation for Jewish history and  Israeli culture. This is no different than the affinity Korean Americans may feel to Korea or the connection that members of other ethnicities may feel to their respective places of origin and cultures.  

Loyalty to a home country may be based on its core values and principles, such as liberty and freedom. Maintaining multiple loyalties is only objectionable if doing so is antithetical to those essential values or if one is loyal to a country at war with their home country. 

Furthermore, these values of love and appreciation for another country may even be in the interest of the home country. As Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis once said, “My approach to Zionism was through Americanism. In time, practical experience and observation convinced me that Jews were by reason of their traditions and their character peculiarly fitted for the attainment of American ideals. Gradually, it became clear to me that to be good Americans, we must be better Jews, and to be better Jews, we must become Zionists.” 

However, to single out Diaspora Jews and argue that they cannot be trusted citizens because of this relationship is antisemitic and a perpetuation of the antisemitic canard that has led to much Jewish suffering. 

Historic examples:  

  • Promoting the idea that Jews crucified Jesus.
  • The conviction of Captain Alfred Dreyfus for espionage in France.
  • Allegations that Jews conspired to involve their home countries in foreign wars at the expense of their home country. An example includes World War II, about which many antisemites claim that the struggle in Europe was a “Jewish cause” and that Jewish groups outside Europe were “agitating for war” on behalf of a foreign people. 
  • Accusations leveled by Hitler against German Jewish soldiers of betraying the German army during World War I. This led him to claim that Germany’s future success in World War II would be dependent on ridding the country of the disloyal Jews
  • The “Doctors’ Plot” concocted by Joseph Stalin, which cast a group of Soviet Jewish doctors as disloyal citizens. 
  • Allegations that Jews’ true loyalty was to Marxism, Communism, or other revolutionary ideologies.  

The trope and Israel  

Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the use of this trope has become increasingly apparent. Arab governments drove out Jews who had been law-abiding citizens for generations, claiming they were Zionist or Israeli spies.  

For example, thousands of Egyptian Jews were arrested, synagogues were burned, and property was seized following the creation of the State of Israel. This was exacerbated after Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, when Egypt proceeded to round up Jewish men and arrested them as “Israeli” prisoners of war. Similar actions were undertaken in Iraq, where Jews were barred from higher education and their bank accounts were frozen. When one extreme party took control in Iraq in 1963, Jews were forced to carry yellow identification cards. In 1969, 12 Jews were accused of spying for Israel, nine of whom were hanged publicly before a celebrating crowd of 500,000.  

Contemporary examples of the dual loyalty trope  

  • Accusing Jews of putting the interests of Israel ahead of the good of their fellow citizens.
  •  Questioning if a Jewish ambassador to Israel can be objective when advising his home government on relations with the Jewish State.
  • Asking a Jewish student being considered for a campus governance position whether he or she can be “impartial” on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict because of his or her Jewish heritage.  
  • Questioning the loyalty of those backing legislation supporting the State of Israel. 
  • Suggesting that Jews’ loyalty to Israel should disqualify them from being seen as American patriots or serving in political office. 

The argument also spreads conspiracy myths about Jewish control over politics: 

Beyond the classical dual loyalty trope, the conflation also enhances conspiracy myths of Jewish control of and influence in politics. It’s already a stretch to blame individual citizens for the actions of their government; it’s an even bigger stretch to blame citizens abroad.  Holding diaspora Jews responsible for the actions of the State of Israel implies a belief in the conspiracy myth that Jews have outsized control over politics, economics and institutions. This trope is often used to falsely malign the Jewish people and paint them as a homogeneous group.  The perpetrators of conspiracy myths, on the other hand, are portrayed as the lone heroes attempting to unmask the secret powers of evil.  

Unfortunately, this phenomenon has mutated, especially with the advent of social media, which has made it increasingly easier for users to spread disinformation, blame Jews for global problems, and spread hateful rhetoric. It originates from both ends of the political spectrum and has manifested in antisemitic attacks against Jews, including at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.   

The trope that Jews are responsible for the world’s ills is connected to the myth that Jews control the world and are only loyal to their own community.   

What are examples of such accusations against the Jewish people? 

  • Blaming Jews for the death of Jesus. 
  • Accusing Jews of being responsible for the Bubonic Plague.  
  • Alleging that Jews poisoned wells (in an attempt to kill Christians).  
  • Alleging that Jews used the blood of missing children for Passover matzah.  
  • Accusing Jews of ritual murder, e.g., Anderl von Rinn, the Damascus Affair, Simon of Trent, etc.  

What are manifestations of accusing Israel of causing harm 

  • Accusing Israel of perpetrating a second Holocaust. 
  •  Comparing the Gaza Strip, which is run by the internationally recognized terrorist group Hamas, to the Warsaw Ghetto, where Jews were confined by the Nazis before being transported to death camps. 
  • Comparing the Israeli Defense Forces to SS officers or their actions.    
  • Accusing Israel of poisoning water supplies.

Understanding Antisemitism:  

Antisemitism is a complex, multifaceted hatred. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism is considered the gold standard in understanding antisemitism and has been used by governments and institutions to identify and monitor the phenomenon.   

An internationally accepted definition is also useful in assisting authorities to determine whether an incident is antisemitic or not.  

The IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism states:  

“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.”  

The definition includes a list of eleven reference examples, including, most relevantly:   

  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.  

What the WJC is doing about it: 

In addition to raising awareness of the IHRA definition of antisemitism and condemning antisemitic incidents across the globe, WJC publishes reports bringing attention to antisemitic trends. For instance, in 2021, WJC published a report providing an overview of some of the most blatant antisemitic social media posts during the Hamas–Israel conflict. Many of those featured Holocaust imagery, conspiracy myths, and Nazi glorification, in particular evocations such as “Hitler was right.”     

The report also indicated that there was a surge of antisemitic attacks on Diaspora Jews during the conflict between Hamas and Israel over the summer.  

Two reports released by the WJC in November 2020 found that content featuring harmful conspiracy myths targeting Jews has been increasing online and that the once United States-centric movement QAnon has spread to Europe as well. Across social media platforms, the use of phrases such as “Jewish virus” and epithets such as “kike” and “dirty Jew” have increased.  

Since the initial spread of the coronavirus in March 2020, the reports demonstrate that there has been an acute rise in online antisemitism, often–but not exclusively–linked to the pandemic, as many more activities moved into the digital sphere.