Antisemitism as Anti-Jewish Racism: Reflections on an Anti-Racist Analytic

Abigail Bakan and Yasmeen Abu-Laban


Advancing a consistent anti-racist analytic to challenge antisemitism demands standing with all those who suffer from systemic racism, and specifically with Palestinians. However, antisemitism and anti-Palestinian racism are rarely understood and opposed in a unified movement of solidarity. Here, we address what antisemitism is not, especially the false claim that equates antisemitism with criticism of the state of Israel – a claim that is reaching fever pitch in the current moment. Turning to context, we consider periodisations about how antisemitism has changed over time and place, suggesting we are in a new period of increasing legitimacy for antisemitism in Western liberal democratic capitalist states, associated with the rising influence of white nationalism. We then consider what antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism is, and how it is coded in certain ways, including: elite privilege; claims of conspiracies; and symbolic marking for threats and violence. We conclude with notes on the potential for solidarity.

This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition. All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.



This article was originally written months before October 7, 2023 and the related events that have come to be termed “the Israel-Hamas War.” We are profoundly aware of the painfully heavy burden of the current moment, not least because we have been working together on issues relating to Israel/Palestine for many years. We have taken up the practice of self-identifying in our publications as Palestinian (Abu-Laban) and Jewish (Bakan), not in a manner to address some putative “dialogue” based on essentialist identities – which we both oppose – but to challenge the commonly ascribed identity-based binaries. We build our work through a common approach. This work has never been easy intellectually or emotionally because Israel/Palestine is an area where threats to free speech and academic freedom are continual, whether overt or subtle. In addition, there is an absence of common vocabulary across audiences, whether academic or activist. Moreover, Israel/Palestine is an area that has long been imbued by the politics of emotion evoking memories and experiences of group based harm,[2] taking emotional tolls that are not always understood or recognized by scholars who are not engaged in this work. These longstanding features have been amplified sharply since October 7.

Seeing the increasing violence and attacks on the lives of civilians in Israel and in Palestine has been heart breaking, and witnessing spill-over racism and violence directed at Jews and Palestinians in other parts of the world, including the United States, Canada and Russia, has been alarming. Added to this, we are still watching the world witness the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza through ongoing militarized and racist violence, taking a pattern widely identified as genocide.[3] Amidst numerous calls for an immediate ceasefire, which we both supported from the earliest moments, there is currently only more tragedy in sight.

Everything is more challenging and every word more charged in this environment. Writing in a scholarly forum on “antisemitism” is especially fraught and subject to an intensified wave of repression, compared in Canada and the US to a new McCarthyism. There is even an unprecedented level of direct pressure from the state of Israel into US university and college administrations, exemplified in a letter from Israeli President Isaac Herzog, ostensibly to challenge antisemitism.[4] Drawing on civilizational rhetoric, Herzog claims ‘[a]t stake is whether the enlightened world will defend the basic norms of humanity, or choose to accept, even support, their violation’.[5] Longstanding calls from Palestinians for freedom from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, naming the Israeli state as colonial, or the political view of anti-Zionism, have been repeatedly and repressively equated with antisemitism.[6]

In such a context, we feel a responsibility to seek some kind of meaning and clarity. We have worked and published together from a space of shared commitments to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel precisely because of its non-violent and universalist orientation.[7] Our shared commitments have also been informed by critical feminist and anti-racist thought inspired through engagement with historical materialism. And through all this we take an approach to understanding antisemitism with a view that it needs to be an explicit part of an anti-racist analytic. We conceptualize solidarity as an ongoing process to challenge the divide and conquer strategies of capitalism, colonialism and imperialism, requiring not only something akin to what Terri Givens (2021) has called “radical empathy” in interpersonal relations[8] and ongoing conversations, but also analytical clarity. This means that solidarity in the context of Israel/Palestine requires an informed and rigourous analytical framework. This quest for an analytic animates our work below, and continues to motivate us in the current moment.

For us, a starting point for this ongoing and critical work is being able to name anti-Palestinian racism, a phenomenon we have addressed elsewhere.[9] But it also requires recognizing antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism. We are united in rejecting both anti-Palestinian racism and anti-Jewish racism, and insist on the simultaneity of these commitments. We are also united in recognizing that people make their own history, but not in conditions of their own choosing.[10] It is in trying to map a path to fundamental social change and human betterment in the face of inequitable structures that we share some modest reflections on antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism.





In April 2021, Human Rights Watch issued a major report charging that Israel was engaging in the international crime of apartheid and persecution as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court vis à vis Palestinians.[11] This resulted in charges of antisemitism from pro-Israel organizations.[12] In the same year, Human Rights Watch also published an article documenting and expressing concern over a notable surge of antisemitism in Europe, citing examples from the UK, Austria and Germany.[13] Yet, in 2023 the former long-time Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, was denied a fellowship, previously offered, at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. This was widely understood to be due to the work of Human Rights Watch on Israel under Roth’s direction; Roth had been repeatedly labelled “antisemitic”, even though his father was a Jewish Holocaust survivor.[14] Although public outcry eventually led the Dean of the Kennedy School, Doug Elmendorf, to renew the offer to Roth, the issue was not fully resolved. In Roth’s words:

I remain worried about academic freedom. Given my three decades leading Human Rights Watch, I was able to shine an intense spotlight on Dean Elmendorf’s decision, but what about others? The problem of people penalized for criticizing Israel is not limited to me.[15]

The recent examples of charges of “antisemitism” in relation to Human Rights Watch, Harvard University, and Kenneth Roth serve as a microcosm signalling the vexed context of efforts to simultaneously support the human rights of Palestinians and Jews in the academy, and by extension global civil society. Specifically, antisemitism and anti-Palestinian racism can rarely be simultaneously understood and opposed in a unified movement of solidarity. It is this problem that animates this article. We maintain that the challenge of forging solidarity across these specific lines of difference is complex, and includes an absence of common language about what antisemitism is, and what it is not. This is not only, however, a matter of language, but of analytical clarity. This article aims to address what we see as a missing analytic of antisemitism, specifically as anti-Jewish racism, with implications for effective praxis.

As Jewish (Bakan) and Palestinian (Abu-Laban) scholars and activists who have written together on Israel/Palestine in relation to race, racism and power, we have shared a longstanding concern about the absence of a consistent left narrative to address Palestine and Palestinian rights, resulting in what has been called the tendency to be “progressive except for Palestine”.[16] Additionally, there has been a lack of analytical engagement with antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism, as well as with anti-Palestinian racism. In our view, anti-Palestinian racism remains largely unnamed and unaddressed. Nonetheless it is pervasive and commonly operates under coded tropes, including portraying Palestinians as “terrorists” and as “antisemitic”.[17] Anti-Palestinian racism also operates through such practices as denial of Palestinian experience, blaming Palestinians for Israel’s militarized violence, and the positioning of Israel as a suffering “democracy” rather than an apartheid and colonial state.[18] Efforts to resist anti-Palestinian racism are commonly silenced or distorted.[19] However, in turning to antisemitism, the focus of this article, we encounter different challenges.

Unlike anti-Palestinian racism, antisemitism is widely, named – as well as misnamed – and discussed. Because of this simultaneous ubiquity and ambiguity, a note on terminology is in order. The term “antisemitism” is highly imperfect. It is subject to multiple meanings, including, we suggest, three common usages. These are: (i) anti-Judaism (sometimes referred to as Judeophobia) which refers to prejudice against religious doctrine or belief, and may vary in relation to religious conversion; (ii) exceptional criticism of the policies and practices of the state of Israel – a charge typically unfairly launched – and also often referred to as the “new antisemitism”;[20] and (iii) anti-Jewish racism, the meaning we draw upon, and consider here in more detail. The problematic nature of the term runs deeper, however, if we consider the origins of the term. “Antisemitism” is traceable to Europe in 1873, when Wilhelm Marr – a German journalist committed to opposing legal emancipation of Jews – coined the term to explain policy against Jews as “racism”, which he notably supported.[21] The term was widely adopted in Germany over the late 1800s by those who opposed what was seen to be “a grave error” in advancing political and civil equality for Jews.[22] Here the term also draws on European biological racism, falsely distinguishing between “Aryan” and “Semite” linguistic and racial groups, and simultaneously eliminating Arabic linguistic groups from “semitic” origins.

It is also problematic that the term antisemitism has come to be tightly associated with challenges to both the interests of the state of Israel, and to the idea of Israel as a synonym for Jewish identity,[23] as this produces a recognizably dangerous and problematic terrain of debate. Moreover, this focus elides an arguably more important issue, of antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism. With all these recognized provisos, therefore, we argue that the term “antisemitism” can and should be meaningfully understood, if it is unpacked and clarified as a form of racism. Understood as a form of racism, it can be meaningfully opposed across lines of difference within a reimagined and solidaristic left – a left that includes Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East and in the diaspora, as well as all those experiencing or opposing oppression.

In what follows, we consider antisemitism specifically as anti-Jewish racism. Capitalist, imperialist and colonial hegemony are sustained by divisive politics of divide and conquer, and racism, as well as other forms of oppression, are central to this.[24] In the tradition of Hall as inspired by Gramsci, this framing resists an economistic interpretation of historical materialism that reduces race and racism to economic or functional determinants.[25] Our focus is therefore on understanding antisemitism in order to challenge it effectively. Such an understanding demands, we suggest, standing in common cause with all those who suffer from systemic racism generally, and more specifically with Palestinians who experience the oppression of an apartheid and colonial state, dispossession, and anti-Palestinian racism. In making this argument we suggest a need for an approach that will help us to understand the following:

  • antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism is a specific form of racism, and creative analytical tools are needed to explain this effectively;
  • claims that antisemitism is mainly expressed in criticisms of policies and practices of the state of Israel towards Palestinians are dangerous distractions from challenging antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism;
  • antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism varies according to specific contexts in time and place; the current period of rising white nationalism in liberal democratic capitalist states demands specific attention, especially to forms of coded anti-Jewish racism; and
  • antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism needs to be challenged collectively, through solidarity against hegemonic institutions of capitalism, imperialism and colonialism which are sustained largely through divide and conquer strategies.

To address this argument, we proceed in four parts. First we briefly consider the need for creative analytical tools addressing antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism in the context of hegemony and the potential for contestation. Second, we consider what antisemitism is not. Here we focus on the problematic distraction posed by claims that any criticism of the state of Israel, especially regarding treatment of Palestinians, is antisemitic. Third, turning to context, we review various periodisations attentive to how antisemitism has changed according to time and place. We suggest the need to attend to an actual new era of antisemitism in Western liberal democratic capitalist states, which is associated with the rising influence of white nationalism in mainstream politics. The current moment carries implications for understanding, and challenging, antisemitism. Fourth, continuing on context, we address what antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism is, focussing on how racism directed against Jews has been and continues to be coded in certain ways. As we will detail, anti-Jewish racism relies on coded tropes including elite privilege, claims of conspiracies, and symbolic marking for racist threats and violence. We conclude with some notes on agency and the potential for solidarity, and suggestions for future conversations and research.



Analytical lacunae


The need for creative analytical tools comes in part from recognition of gaps, or lacunae, in hegemonic frameworks, considered at a meta level. Multiple failures of both Western liberalism and Eastern socialism have proven inadequate remedies to antisemitism. In this vacuum, the dominant paradigm of Zionism has emerged, becoming hegemonic particularly since 1948.[26] We understand Zionism to be a political ideology, and not equivalent to Jewish theology, identity or culture. Zionism is a pessimistic response to antisemitism, assuming the impossibility of Jews and non-Jews living together in peace. We assert this framing on the understanding that an extensive elaboration goes beyond the scope of this discussion. However, regarding liberalism, the gap between post-World War Two rhetoric and reality is palpable. As fascism rose before and during World War II, the genocidal reality of Nazi Germany was both revealed and rhetorically challenged. Yet the failure of liberal capitalist democracy is indicated by the refusal of states such as the US and Canada to allow entry to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution.[27] Well before this time, and as an emblematic example, it was American industrialist Henry Ford who arranged for the English translation and circulation of the falsified antisemitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion.[28]

The promise of a socialist alternative drew the attention of generations of Jews seeking resistance to persecution and oppression.[29] An extensive review of both the promise and frustrations of this alternative, as well as the theoretical antinomies of Marx and Marxism on the Jewish question is similarly, however, beyond the scope of this discussion. Briefly, as an original thinker, Marx’s ideas are widely seen to have broken seriously and unapologetically with the dominant conventional wisdom of his contemporaries, establishing a unique mode of enquiry and analysis.[30] Such an iconoclastic approach, however, fails to apply when Marx, particularly his piece “On the Jewish Question”[31] is read in relation to the dominant antisemitism of his day. Even while offering a generous reading of Marx’s works on nationalism and colonialism, Kevin Anderson is compelled to conclude that ‘not even Marx’s strongest defenders on this issue…have suggested that Marx made a significant positive contribution on the issue of Jews and anti-Semitism’.[32] Himani Bannerji helpfully recognizes Marx’s limitations regarding racism generally, that would similarly apply, we suggest, to antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism specifically. Bannerji has stressed that Marx’s methodology allows us to frame an historical materialist reading to widely include even Marx’s limitations, suggesting that Marx’s critical method can be applied to his own writings. We share with Bannerji an approach where ‘you can see the usefulness of his historical materialist method for the purpose of critique and analysis in general’.[33]

In the context of the historical conditions leading to the post-WWII era and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, there was a stark vacuum of effective ideas and related practices for challenging antisemitism.[34] It is in this vacuum that we witness the rise of political Zionism to a dominant positioning grounded in both a political state project and a hegemonic ideology.[35] In this historical context, political Zionism found its footing, moving from a marginal strategy to challenge antisemitism to one that would become hegemonic and grounded in the post-World War Two political state project. This project involved the establishment and elevation of the status of Israel – as a state as well as an idea of a state claiming the ostensible reparation for the Holocaust. It was also established through the simultaneous dispossession of Palestinians – as both stateless permanent refugees and as the Western world’s constructed universal terrorists. This reality we describe elsewhere as the Israel/Palestine racial contract, a hegemonic assertion of anti-Palestinian racism and political Zionism that garners support from Israel and its international allies.[36] The legacy of political discourse framed to oppose antisemitism has become increasingly defined according to “really existing Zionism,” that is Zionism as the ideology of the state of Israel and its supporters,[37] pivoting on claims that Israel is the political embodiment of Jewish identity.

From the standpoint of contemporary conditions and debates, some formative events continued to expose the limits and apparent contradictions in advancing a consistent left challenge to antisemitism and simultaneously to anti-Palestinian racism. An example is the stance adopted by the internationally acclaimed Jewish Marxist and UK-based theorist Ralph Miliband (1924-1994), during the tragic days of Israel’s 1967 Six Day War on Palestine. Miliband extended sympathy for Israel’s actions, albeit with caution and criticisms. This view was challenged, significantly, by another leading Jewish Marxist, Belgian theorist Marcel Liebman. But the debate deflected what should have been a clear-headed analysis of an illegal war of colonial dispossession and settlement, to be dubbed something complicated, as “the Israeli dilemma”.[38]

How then to understand the reality of ongoing racism towards Jews in the current period, while also recognizing other racisms, particularly anti-Palestinian racism? We suggest that drawing on approaches in critical race theory – broadly understood to be approaches that centre race, racialization and power – can be helpful here. Such contributions include the works of Roediger (2007; 2017), Wolfe (2016) and Brodkin (1998) who theorize the social construction of whiteness in relation to class politics, particularly in the US and Western Europe. Specifically we understand ‘race’ to be a category of human difference that is socially and politically constructed, where ascribed phenotypical, linguistic, cultural or other embodied characteristics are universalized and ascribed to designated groups. These groups are accordingly categorized by states and/or civil society and subject to sustained discriminatory practices and ideas that have material effects. Racisms are ideological patterns that codify and embed such discriminatory patterns, and, while unstable, are necessary to capitalism and colonialism insofar as they serve to divide and weaken subaltern mobilization.

In recent years, the importance of naming anti-Palestinian racism has been increasingly identified theoretically and in activist communities.[39] While Palestinians include Christians and Muslims, as an Arab grouping Palestinians can experience anti-Muslim racism (or Islamophobia) along with being subjected to anti-Arab racism and Orientalist stereotypes.[40] Anti-Palestinian racism, however, is specific. It includes, as noted, such coded tropes as denial of the reality of the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe), erasure of the experience of racialized inequity and apartheid conditions in Israel,[41] as well as baseless charges of “terrorism” and “antisemitism”.[42]

Antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism also needs to be named, and considered in relation to the hegemony of political Zionism. In the current period it is notable that some Jews, those who are of Ashkenazi (European) origin, were invited into a kind of whiteness,[43] or more specifically, “whiteness by permission”.[44] Jews of colour, including Mizrahim (Oriental) Jews, were not invited to “pass” into hegemonic Christian whiteness, while those who crossed the “transition to whiteness” did so only on very specific terms.[45] Such terms included identification with a post-war geopolitical configuration, where Jews were constituted as ‘Israeli-citizens-in-waiting in the West…and presume[d] a prior positive relationship between Jewishness and Zionism’.[46] This at the same time as Palestinians were displaced, denied the right to return and rendered stateless.[47] Jews in the diaspora who publicly rejected Zionism paid the price of isolation, and suffered within the Jewish community crude accusations of “self-hating”. Over time, the tight relationship between Israel and Ashkenazi Jews in the US, Canada and Western Europe, saw the once despised Jews who faced Nazi death camps move to a certain status previously unthinkable; this was accompanied by a close institutional and cultural alliance between the Israeli state and related Jewish community organizations abroad.[48]

In the current period, there are indications that the conditions for permission to whiteness for Jews in liberal democracies are under strain, as white nationalist political currents overtly committed to racist violence against Jews are finding increasing legitimacy.[49] However, some mainstream organizations that claim to represent Jews internationally, and have tightly cemented their interests to the state of Israel, are dangerously finding common cause with some of the most conservative political forces in the West. In the process this is contributing to some of the most staggeringly racist and civilizational discourses targeting Palestinians and other racialized minorities.[50]

And yet, there are also significant signs of a decline in the hegemonic status of Zionism among the Jewish community in the West, particularly with a younger generation.[51] Central to the critique of Zionism is growing recognition of the contours of the Israeli capitalist social formation as rooted in the racialized contestation over land and politics associated with apartheid and colonialism. The colonial structure of Israeli capitalism has been long recognized by Palestinians[52] and some Marxist scholars have offered comparisons with apartheid South Africa.[53] The colonial roots and logic of the linkages between accumulation, dispossession of Palestinian rights to land, and racism have been clearly traced in critical scholarship.[54] However, specific identification as an apartheid state is increasingly noted even by the criteria of international law.[55] Israel is deeply economically and militarily reliant on support from the US, and in close step, Canada and other Western countries.[56] At the same time, the state of Israel, and relatedly all major Israeli political parties and institutions, are reliant on the expulsion of the Palestinian population. This means, for example, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Palestinians have not consistently functioned as a reserve army of labour for Israeli capital. Further, the classical liberal capitalist model of even minimal inclusion, or in Gramscian terms of combining consent with coercion, does not apply at all in the OPT, and unevenly in Israel proper (1948 boundaries). Instead, Israeli capitalism is both historically and in the present, grounded in a racialized logic of inclusion only of Jews, and overwhelmingly Ashkenazi (European) Jews, into any semblance of consent; Palestinians are subject to coercion.

This brings us to the current discussion, seeking an analytical approach that can more effectively challenge both, and simultaneously, anti-Jewish and anti-Palestinian racism. In order to imagine solidarity between Jews and Palestinians, a shared refusal of apartheid Israel as an emancipatory space becomes a necessary element. This is not a utopian vision, given the history and present growth of non- and anti-Zionist Jewish political activism. Here we aim to re-centre this orientation, to explain antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism, and to draw upon historical materialist tools in the tradition of Antonio Gramsci (1971). Such an approach, we suggest, can open the possibilities of wider challenges to hegemonic structures both materially and ideologically. We view Gramsci’s work and attention to agency as informing, and suggest a need for direct conversation with, struggles against colonialism and racism.[57] We are also inspired by contemporary social movements, which as expressed by intersectional feminism, challenge static identities even among oppressed groups. This opens a vision of what has also been termed “transversal” politics which emphasizes shifting positionalities in relation to power,[58] a vision consistent with an historic left hope for emancipation.

We emphasize context, and consider specificities in time, place and discursive meanings, in order to address both what antisemitism is not, and what it is. In the post-World War Two period antisemitism has generally been seen as something to be condemned internationally. It is worth recalling the evolving architecture of the United Nations (UN), ultimately rejecting scientific grounds for race and racism; condemning genocide and advancing human rights was heavily influenced by the horrors of the Holocaust and the antisemitism of the Nazi German state regime.[59] More recently, in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, ongoing efforts to promote the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism have led to an explicit asserted connection between criticism of the policies of the state of Israel and antisemitism. To the extent that this working definition becomes a way of silencing forms of resistance to colonialism, particularly for those who are Palestinian and their allies,[60] the false ascription of the charge of antisemitism serves to conceal the glaring lack of an effective and consistent analytical framework through and from which to advance solidarity and anti-racism. This brings us to consider what antisemitism is not.



What antisemitism is not: Deflections and distractions

Antisemitism specifically has a long history in Western liberal democracies stemming from anti-Judaism which predates capitalism; in the historical turn to race-thinking, antisemitism also predates what has been referred to as the neoliberal turn[61] as well as the establishment of the state of Israel.[62] However, in the post-World War Two period antisemitism also became linked, including in accounts of some Marxist thinkers, to a completely different world region: the Middle East.[63] To some extent this region even came to usurp a focus on Europe and the West in relation to discussions of current manifestations of antisemitism.[64] While discussions relating to antisemitism in countries of the Middle East have clearly been about a different context, they are also typically, and strangely, historically de-contextualized. This is not only about what is forwarded analytically, but also about silences on pivotal issues such as colonialism, settler-colonialism and imperialism and the impact of external forces on and within the region.

Not surprisingly given this kind of gaping historical silence, the literature on antisemitism in the Middle East is thoroughly contradictory when it comes to questions of the origins and manifestations of antisemitism in the region. Webman (2010) for example observes the different ways scholars have traced antisemitism in the Middle East as, variously: an imported European phenomenon; as endemic to Islam and in a certain sense, a timeless feature of Islam, and/or; as a wholly inappropriate phenomenon by which to understand the region in light of antisemitism’s European Christian connotations.[65] Our particular interest however lies not in trying to resolve this highly charged debate, but rather in observing its contours, and considering how to contextualize the need for a more effective, creative, analytic that can bring anti-Palestinian racism and anti-Jewish racism into more explicit focal point for solidarity.

The debate on antisemitism in the Middle East is steeped in issues relating to translation in a zone of colonialism, and often misconstrued conflict, and has been dependent on sometimes suspect scholarship. For example, consider the work of the late Bernard Lewis who is credited with problematically identifying a specifically Arab and/or Islamic antisemitism (with the two terms, Arab and Islamic, used interchangeably).[66] Much of the literature on antisemitism in the Middle East is itself tied to differing and shifting geopolitical developments pertaining to the formation of the state of Israel, the 1967 war, and the post 9/11 period.[67] Put differently, “Palestinian antisemitism,” came to be viewed by some scholars, as well as presented in Israeli discourse, as part and parcel of the continued conflict with Israel, as well the threat posed by “Islamic terrorism” in the post 9/11 period.

At a more popular level, and in relation to political discourse, it is also relevant to reflect on the ways in which specific Arab leaders have, over many decades, come to be likened to Adolph Hitler. This is a phenomenon that also follows geopolitical interests and shifts. Consider that in advance of the 1990 Persian Gulf war, US President George H.W. Bush claimed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was worse and more barbaric than Hitler.[68] Writing in the immediate post-9/11 context, and specifically the impending US-led war against Iraq in 2003, Nicholas D. Kristof spoke out against a war on the country by drawing a parallel with President Eisenhower’s avoidance of invasion when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. Kristof’s words are telling:

European leaders were determined not to appease this “Hitler on the Nile.” France, Israel and Britain conspired to invade Egypt and oust Nasser. “It was too risky to allow this adventurer, this miniature Hitler, to develop”, Prime Minister Guy Mollet of France later told Nasser’s biographer Jean Lacouture.[69]

In fact, Prime Minister Mollet’s rendering of Nasser and Hitler as parallel was headlined in the pages of The New York Times.[70] Similarly, then UK Prime Minister Anthony Eden also saw Nasser as a new version of Hitler, viewing the nationalization of the Suez Canal as akin to Hitler’s remilitarization of the Rhineland.[71]

There is an obvious tendency to portray perceived contemporary figures and threats with those from the past.[72] However, the generalized reluctance, even if there is some debate, to likening Donald Trump to Hitler is, arguably, fascinating.[73] This is particularly the case as the resistance to associate Trump with past, or present, fascism, stands in dramatic contrast to the longstanding and sweeping characterizations of Arab leaders and predominantly Arab populations. For instance, Nasser has been portrayed, alongside the entire so-called “Arab street”, as antisemitic, as importing antisemitism from Europe to the Middle East, and as conflating anti-Zionism and antisemitism.[74] In more recent times, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was seen to be influenced by Hitler, and Palestinian nationalists likened to Nazis.[75]

Given this longstanding analogizing, it is a very short step to portray any negative representation or discussion of Israel and its policies as potentially, implicitly, or directly antisemitic. To be clear, it is of course possible to target Israel by mobilizing antisemitism, a characteristic for example of many Christian white nationalist groups in the US.[76] Antisemitic acts of violence in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, such as what happened in the Dagestan region of Russia when a plane from Tel Aviv was surrounded by protesters at Makhachkala airport, offers another example.[77] Importantly, however, a key way in which the field of debate regarding antisemitism becomes unclear is precisely when it is associated with starkly legitimate criticisms of Israel and its policies. Indeed, it is perhaps not surprising that this has happened in a much larger way as the understanding of Palestinian claims, and specifically support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, have grown in countries of the West.[78] The Israeli state and related pro-Israel efforts to mark the BDS movement as antisemitic[79] have not succeeded in suppressing its impact, though this has contributed to the atmosphere of silencing and repression.

Today one of the clearest manifestations of the conflation between the policies of the state of Israel and antisemitism is seen in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. Founded in 1998, the IHRA is an inter-governmental body now comprising 35 states, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States. In 2016, the IHRA advanced a working definition of antisemitism, as follows:

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.[80]

 This definition, notably, is very vague and unclear, and it does not explicitly identify antisemitism as a form of racism, or as anti-Jewish racism. Perhaps precisely to add meaning to the vague definition, a list of examples follows as part of the working definition, to illustrate antisemitism. Several of the examples explicitly refer to the state of Israel; one in particular states that antisemitism is exemplified by ‘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’.[81] The IHRA working definition has been subjected to critique within Jewish communities and beyond, given its implications from the standpoint of context and claims-making. In a report published by Canada’s Independent Jewish Voices, the authors note that ‘self-determination does not automatically require, or allow for, an independent nation state’.[82] They go on to observe:

Regarding the second clause of the example above, if we allow people to say that Canada is a racist endeavour (as many Indigenous activists and allies do), how can we disallow Palestinians and their allies from making the same claim about Israel? (One can disagree with these propositions, without prohibiting people from either making such statements or accusing them of racism/antisemitism.) Again, as with the other examples, determining whether the claims that “[t]he Jewish people do not have the right to a Jewish State” or that “Israel is a racist endeavour” are antisemitic must be based on who makes them, in what context and with what intent.[83]

Here the fact that charges of antisemitism for criticizing Israeli policies are frequently attached to those who are people of colour and Palestinian, has been argued to arise from a strategy where context and intent are ignored.[84]

Certainly, the challenges associated with the IHRA working definition of antisemitism have given rise to alternative responses. These include the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (2021), a statement advanced and signed by international leading scholars in antisemitism and Jewish studies, who initially convened in 2020 at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. This document has also been subject to considerable challenge.[85] However, our aim is not to suggest alternate ways to “define” for all times and places antisemitism, but to indicate that such a quest is actually irredeemably vexed. Indeed, the drive for a singular definition is not motivated by mobilizing an effective movement against anti-Jewish racism, but, apparently, as experience where the IHRA working definition has been advanced, to silence criticism of the state of Israel.[86] Here it is worth underscoring certain structural factors that render addressing an effective analytic that focuses on anti-Jewish racism in the context of the Middle East especially challenging. As noted, the state of Israel has a persistent and continuing history of advancing a kind of Jewish (particularly Ashkenazi, or European) whiteness with associated material privileges, to the exclusion of others, including Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews[87] and especially the Indigenous Palestinian population.[88]

Israel’s 1950 Law of Return codified its 1948 Declaration of Independence in welcoming all Jews, and Jews alone, with nationality status and the right to settle in Israel, with the understanding that the state was exclusively home to an ethnically defined Jewish people.[89] More recently, the 2018 Basic Law, Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People, calls Israel the “homeland of the Jewish people,” excluding Palestinians from membership in the nation.[90] The state of Israel, and its leaders, explicitly conflate representation of the state and those deemed citizens, with all the world’s Jews. For example, the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations is described as representing ‘the state of Israel, its citizens and the Jewish people on the global stage of the United Nations’.[91] In certain iterations by Israel’s state leaders it is not clear that the state represents, even rhetorically, all of its citizens, and specifically its non-Jewish citizens. This was indicated in 2019 when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that Israel is ‘the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people’.[92]

Put differently, these kinds of statements – whether in declaration, law or political pronouncement – render “Israel” coterminous with the “Jewish people”. That means it is made not only possible, but considered to be universally inevitable, that to claim a description or criticism or discussion of Israel pertains to all Jews regardless of where they live, or where they hold citizenship. This hegemonic collapsing of the state of Israel with Jewish identity only shifts if one adopts a position that understands Israel and its policies in a world of states to be treated and studied like other states. Here Daniel Schroeter’s work is relevant. Of the extant literature he observes how shifts in time and place have affected the discourse of antisemitism vis à vis the Middle East.

Narratives of the history of “Arab” and “Islamic” anti-Semitism have evolved over the course of fifty years through three phases, not entirely discrete: the first, from the late 1960s, focused on “Arab anti-Semitism” as a product of a national, mainly secular conflict between Israel and the Arabs. During the second phase, which began in the 1980s with the rise of radical Islam, there was a discursive shift from “Arab” to “Muslim” as Muslims began to replace Arabs as the enemy of the Jews and Israel. While “Arab” as an ethnic and national category was still used in connection with anti-Semitism, the Arab was almost always coded to signify the Muslim, feeding into the popular perception outside the Muslim world that Arabs and Muslims were one and the same. The third phase followed the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Judeophobia, conflated with hatred of Zionism and the State of Israel, was integral to the worldview of “Islamist” jihadi terrorists.[93]

In this transition from “Arab” to “Islamic” antisemitism, which notably coincided with the demise of pan-Arabism, Palestinians came to assume a larger role as the purported source of antisemitism, an emphasis also tied to the rise of Hamas in 1987 as well as the first Intifada.[94]

From such a perspective, Israel is a shifting signifier, and therefore does not offer any kind of consistent way for addressing, or challenging, antisemitism, indicating further the need for an effective analytic. Given that manifestations of antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism, and all forms of racism, demand attention and mobilization in a consistent framework, we turn to identifying how antisemitism needs to be understood specifically. We consider how antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism is variable over time and place, and suggest some points to consider as we focus on liberal democratic capitalist states.


Antisemitism Here and Now: Considering Liberal Democracies in Present Times

In order to understand antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism, context clearly matters. Antisemitism, like all forms of racism, is not about inherent traits among Jews, nor can it be defined according to a universalist listing of oppressive practices. In fact, we have seen how efforts to produce such universalistic definitions can lead to distortions, distractions and elisions that fail to effectively challenge antisemitism, such as the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, as noted above.

The focus of this discussion is to explain how antisemitism is manifest in Western liberal capitalist democracies – broadly considered as capitalist states with formally free elections for state governance that adhere, again formally, to the rule of law and individual rights. In this section we address the contexts and parameters of such a focus, as these are of course unstable societies. They collectively share patterns of deep class based and other inequities that belie hegemonic rhetorical commitments to universal human rights. Such states are characterized by exploitation, systemic oppression, patriarchy and racial contracts.[95]

There are also major variations across these states, where specific contexts matter. In the US, for example, in recent years one of the major political parties, the Republican Party, in a political system notably framed sharply by only two parties, has increasingly embraced overtly antisemitic representatives within its ranks. It is difficult to map the growing trend of antisemitism effectively, as hate crime data generally and data regarding antisemitism particularly are notoriously inaccurate.[96] However, over the course of the rising influence and presidential term of Donald Trump (2016-2020), explicit accommodations to far right forces in the Republican Party have been widely identifiable.[97] In Canada, there is a politically more contested electoral field, but there are no grounds to assume exceptionalism and caution should be extended against any underestimation of the threat of the far right in Canada.[98] There is a dangerous rightward shift in the Conservative Party, the Official Opposition, under the recent rise to leadership of Pierre Poilievre (since September 2022). At the current writing such forces remain emergent and less influential relative to the US context, but there are indications of a similar trajectory. The experience of liberal democratic politics in western Europe is again quite different, with multiple examples of influential far-right political parties starting with France’s Front National in the 1980s, and rendering increasing space to white nationalism in the early 2000s.[99]

In common, however, white nationalism is rising in influence. This is a political orientation and epistemic commitment to the creation and maintenance of a Christian, white, and Euro-centric ethno-state.[100] Adherents oppose even formal democratic norms that advocate tolerance for, or equity among, racialized and/or non-Christian minorities. It is increasingly being expressed in discourses, movements, and acts of violence targeting minorities including Jews, Arabs, Palestinians, Muslims, Indigenous peoples, and people of colour. Antisemitism is one central manifestation of white nationalism. The current moment carries implications for understanding, and challenging, antisemitism.

Collectively, there are sufficient similarities in this discursive contemporary moment, not least where communication is enhanced by new digital technologies, to make it reasonable to consider liberal democracies as sharing today more commonalities than differences. This is especially given that there are clear, overt challenges from the right to even formal electoral democratic principles within and beyond such states. The events of January 6, 2021 in the US may be seen as a pivotal example, when the ratification of the federal election results was threatened by a right-wing insurrection fuelled by supporters of the former president and defeated candidate.[101] This is notable given that the US has been widely asserted in Western and global hegemonic state ideology as the idealized country case study of democratic stability. Further, and relevant to the current discussion, real and symbolic linkages with white nationalism, Nazi sympathies and antisemitism have been documented as central to the election denial movement.[102]

There are also grounds to consider a temporal limitation to the context of this discussion regarding antisemitism. Antisemitism, again like all forms of racism, has changed not only over place, but time, when it comes to its relationship to hegemonic power, ideologies and practices. Various periodisations indicate some key turning points. Traverso suggests a period of “Jewish modernity”, noting the generalization of legal emancipation of Jews as a key pivot point, leading to “an exit from the ghetto” either through assimilation or collapse, effectively “secularizing the Jewish world”. The end of this period of modernity according to this framework is marked by two major events – the Nazi Holocaust in Europe and the founding of the state of Israel in the Middle East – shifting the “axis of the Jewish world” from Europe to Israel and its main supporter, the US.[103]

On the eve of the Second World War, almost ten million Jews had lived in Europe; by the mid 1990s less than two million remained. After the war Jewry practically ceased to exist in Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Germany and Austria, the countries that had been its main centres. On top of this, between 1948 and 1996 close to a million and a half Jews left Europe to settle in Israel, which also received a massive influx (in equivalent proportions) of Jews from the Maghreb and the Near East, followed by Russian Jews.[104]

Another type of periodisation is suggested by Englert, who points to the complexity of Jewish community identity in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the post-World War Two period. Here Israel is central and he argues that:

Western Jewish communities have been defined by the state as an extension of its own legitimacy, and the fate of Israeli settler-colonialism in Palestine. This process of essentialisation of the Jewish people is a form of structural antisemitism, which attempts to impose a specific, politicised, identity upon an entire community.[105]

It is relevant, from the vantage point of such perspectives, to consider the specific nature of “really existing Zionism”[106] as it has emerged in the recent context. A periodisation can be linked to the extension of Israeli colonial occupation and dispossession of Palestine and Palestinians, and the coterminous expanding impact of anti-Palestinian racism.[107] We have previously forwarded a periodisation in this light, focussing on the more global “Israelization” of racialized surveillance and social sorting after 9/11.[108] This periodisation can be identified accordingly, with four phases: (i) 1948-1967: ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the making of a military, colonial settler state, and the construction of the Palestinian “enemy”; (ii) 1967-1991: continued expansion and entrenched occupation, and the construction of the Palestinian “terrorist threat”; (iii) 1992-2000: from Oslo to the second Intifada, marked by the supposed promise of peace through a two-state “solution”; and (iv) 2001-mid 2000s: Israel’s claim to being the world’s “victim state par excellence in its battle with “terrorism,” and therefore with related expectations of liberal democratic state and civil society alliances.[109]

Over the course of these events and hegemonic ideological constructions, the Palestinian Other has been consistently constructed as a dangerous civilizational threat. The threat is specifically, in this generic ideological claim, to the fabric of Western civilization articulated notably through the trope that such “civilization” is “Judeo-Christian,” and not “Muslim”. This has intensified with the ideological advance of the concept of a “new antisemitism”, where the constructed collectivized “Jew” is presented as equivalent to the state of Israel.[110] Significantly, with this framing, antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism within Western liberal democratic societies is implicitly positioned as non-existent. At the same time, threats to the boundaries of Israel’s geopolitical interests are amplified in describing contemporary “antisemitism”. Currently, we suggest this is a different period in Western liberal democracies, marked by the return of overt white nationalism which brings with it the possibilities of amplifying multiple racisms including Islamophobia (anti-Muslim racism), Sinophobia (anti-Asian racism) and antisemitism (anti-Jewish racism). It also brings in the possibility of amplifying forms of racism, including antisemitism, in mainstream parliamentary politics.

Identifying a political periodisation is not of course an exact science, and there are no definitive temporal boundaries. However, such a periodisation can serve as a heuristic to indicate change and, perhaps, the need for different, or differently emphasized, analytical tools. Wendy Brown certainly captures an element of the current moment in reflecting on the gains made by hard right groups and parties in Western liberal democracies. She writes:

Every election brings a new shock: neo-Nazis in the German parliament, neofascists in the Italian one, Brexit ushered in by tabloid-fuelled xenophobia, the rise of white nationalism in Scandinavia, authoritarian regimes taking shape in Turkey and Eastern Europe, and of course, Trumpism. Racist, anti-Islamic, and anti-Semitic hatefulness and bellicosity grow in the streets and across the internet, and newly coalesced far-right groups have burst boldly into the public light after years of lurking mostly in the shadows.[111]

This analysis stresses the importance of understanding the radical (as in, from the roots) manner in which three decades of neoliberal governance have impacted law, political culture and even political subjectivity. In Brown’s examination, while neoliberalism has not “caused” the current trends, it has fuelled a host of policies that also attack democracy and thereby helped lay the groundwork for resurgent hard right mobilizations and claims.[112]

While there might be much to debate in relation to the role of the working class in relation to the hard right in liberal democracies, such an analysis certainly alerts us to consider, and to be attuned to, the broader context in which we are witnessing the surges in far right and white supremacist thinking and political gains in liberal democracies. Arguably, in North America (here referring specifically to the US and Canada) there is a case to see the pivotal impact of the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally and march, estimated to be about 100 participants, that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia in the US. The event itself was overtly white supremacist, combining burning torches and explicit racism including antisemitism, in chants, symbols and targeted attacks. But central also was the change in national and international debate. Then sitting US President Donald Trump’s notable response, condemning “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides”[113] served to lend legitimacy to elevated and threatening racial violence, the symbolism of the old Confederacy and the rhetoric of “replacement” theory. The point of focus for Renaud Camus in le grand remplacement/the great replacement as advanced in the 2012 book was the paranoid belief that immigrants, particularly Muslim immigrants, posed a threat to Christiandom in France/Europe.[114] However, the way white nationalism amplifies multiple racisms could be seen in the repeated slogan of “Jews will not replace us!” at the Charlottesville march. It is emblematic of a much wider movement of formerly marginal white nationalist rhetoric in mainstream politics, despite variations in the evolution, language and context of “replacement” as a pseudo-theory.[115]

Such a periodisation is marked not only by heightened, overt antisemitism, but also by more legitimacy of antisemitic tropes used to support anti-Palestinian racism. In this regard, the period of intensified anti-Muslim racism and anti-Arab racism that marked the post 9/11 period has contributed to the foundation for intensified racism generally, including anti-Jewish racism. During the Trump administration, the US Republican Party became an increasingly welcoming space for white nationalism and openly Nazi symbolism,[116] while at the same time cultivating increasingly close relations with the state of Israel. Notably:

From recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to cutting the American contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the Trump Administration has taken a sharp turn in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. To be sure, past US administrations have not been neutral by any means, but this administration is taking the Israel bias to a new level. President Donald Trump decided to toe the line of the Israeli right-wing government, in contradiction with longstanding US policy and international law.[117]


Such a new period of heightened legitimacy for anti-Jewish racism in America coincides with a widening of the impact of anti-Palestinian racism,[118] and rests cynically with increasing embrace of the state of Israel. This is a trend also evident with other far right and populist leaders seeking legitimacy, from Marine Le Pen to Viktor Orbán. However, standard language and discourse among both far right and more liberal centre adherents of the state of Israel share in common an epistemic denial of the realities of both anti-Jewish racism and anti-Palestinian racism. This terrain of public debate is notably vexed.

In this epistemic vacuum, antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism is potentially poised to gain further legitimacy within what could be considered an unstable hegemonic bloc;[119] yet challenges to antisemitism are taken up largely by decidedly pro-Israel and Zionist forces claiming, falsely, to represent the interests of the global Jewish community. This general shift in climate is not only notable in the US context, but also characteristic of trends in Canada[120] and Europe, including for example Hungary[121] and the UK[122]. How then, does antisemitism manifest in current times?


Antisemitism as Coded Racism

 Antisemitism, as anti-Jewish racism, operates both similarly to, and different from, other racisms. Like other racisms occurring in the context of formal legal equality, anti-Jewish racism is commonly coded in specific ways.[123] This is in part a strategy of white nationalism to move into greater influence, but casual antisemitism is also often part of a kind of unspoken common sense. At the same time, as with other specific racisms, including anti-Muslim racism or Islamophobia, there are unique characteristics to anti-Jewish racism which also vary with context of time and place. This needs to be identified when considering antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism.

The ways that antisemitism is coded in specific ways demands analytic attention, especially in liberal democracies in the present time when there is a background that has challenged the legitimacy of explicit anti-Jewish racism. Backhouse describes how the legal framework of liberal democracies on racism generally shifted in the post-war period, changing from overt acceptance of racial discrimination, when ‘Western governments ushered in a host of policies that proclaimed an intent to eliminate discrimination on the basis of race’.[124] Antisemitism, while still frowned upon in much of post-war mainstream, or hegemonic, discourse, continues unnamed and therefore also unchallenged. Coding is elemental to how antisemitism can, as the current period demonstrates, re-emerge with renewed influence, apparently unaffected by years of formal illegality. We identify at least three key elements in this regard, where coding antisemitism operates according to certain normative stereotypes. These coded tropes assert Jews and Jewish identity as: symbols of elite privilege; conspirators; and subject to symbolic marking. Importantly, these are not newly invented tropes. What is significant in fact, is that age-old stereotypes have not been obliterated despite years of contrary evidence and experience. Each of these forms of coded anti-Jewish racism is briefly elaborated below.

Significantly for those critical of ruling class power, it is important to identify the common sense view, in a Gramscian sense, that there is a collectivity of “Jews” who are rich and powerful, both financially and intellectually. This is despite the reality that the vast majority of the world’s elite are non-Jewish. Racist expressions like “I was Jewed at the market” are commonly accepted in casual discourse. Images of Shakespeare’s Shylock, in the Merchant of Venice, sync seamlessly with, for example, the extraordinary demonization against billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Soros has been widely, and falsely, accused of, among other crimes, “manipulating the world economy”.[125] The attacks on Soros – who is Jewish and fled the Nazis from his native Hungary as a child, and has lived and worked in the UK and the US – have travelled internationally. He has been vilified by leading representatives of the US Republican party, and in far right social media. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has not hesitated to elevate the targeting:


In the late summer of 2017, one couldn’t take a walk in Budapest without being accosted by a large image of George Soros, the American financier. The posters and billboards featuring his age-ravaged visage featured the message: ‘Don’t let Soros have the last laugh!’. Like Goldstein’s in Orwell’s 1984, Soros’s larger-than-life face was meant to symbolize the people’s number one enemy. Like Goldstein, Soros was Jewish. Many of his most outspoken enemies inside and outside Hungary saw him as leading an international cabal that included other Jews such as the Rothschilds, as well as Freemasons and Illuminati. The billboard and poster campaign had been ordered, at a reported cost of more than US$21 million, by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government.[126]


This anti-elite imagery rests alongside a deep-seated anti-intellectualism that implicates studiousness, scholarship, and even scientific rationality, as features of Jewish supremacy. Disturbingly, this is a trope adopted historically not only by the far right, but also the left.[127] This form of antisemitism, coded as anti-elitism, is notably effective, as few with progressive or even humanitarian orientations would offer personal sympathy to one of the richest people in the world. However, it is significant that antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism moves simultaneously against those in the working class and socialist movement, as well as those in elite positions. Moreover, class privilege has not served as a protection against antisemitism. This is indicated historically particularly in the case of Germany in the 1930s, and in the present example of Soros. Soros has been the subject of life threatening attacks.[128] In fact, it is precisely the universalism of this type of antisemitic coding, across class, that renders it potentially ubiquitous, and also especially difficult to name, identify and effectively challenge.

This particular form of coding coincides with another – claims that Jews are collectively secretive, dishonest, untrustworthy and obsessed with conspiring to advance their power at the expense of others. Again, this is an old trope that is finding renewed and widespread circulation. Conspiracy theories have become more acceptable as part of politics in the current period, augmented by the echo chambers of social media. One key example of this is, of course, the denial of the results of the 2020 US presidential election despite extensive evidence confirming the defeat at the polls of the Republican party and the incumbent US President. While antisemitism is not always named, adherents of antisemitic theories of conspiracy and conspirators have gravitated to US 2020 election denialism, and in turn have amplified the story and found “explanation”. One example of this is the so-called “great replacement theory”, mentioned earlier, and forwarded by former right wing Fox News pundit, Tucker Carlson. In mid-September, 2021, media attention turned to increasing numbers of Haitian migrants seeking asylum in the US. While most of the asylum seekers were violently turned away,[129] some families were allowed to stay. In the days that followed, Carlson presented the claim that US border policy was designed to “change the racial mix of the country”, which he explained was ‘[i]n political terms a policy termed the “great replacement”, the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries’.[130] As noted, the theory is traceable in its modern iteration to French author Renaud Camus (2012), The Great Replacement, which focusses on the threat of African and Middle Eastern Muslim immigrants, rather than overt antisemitism. But it also serves antisemitism well.

The 2017 Charlottesville demonstrators readily included the threat of Jews replacing “us” in the neo-fascist rallying calls, and the approach has become widely cited, with deadly effects on multiple communities. A sense of threat, and the legitimation of violence as a form of claimed self-defence, has collectively targeted immigrants, Blacks and people of colour, Muslims and Jews in this conspiratorial pseudo-theory. In the city of Buffalo, New York, on 14 May 2022, an 18 year old shooter killed ten Black people in a grocery store and was found to have embraced “replacement theory”, indicating at least part of the motivation.[131] Regarding antisemitism specifically, the approach harks back to the fraudulent but widely distributed “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, first published in Russia in the late 1800s. It was published in English in 1920, significantly in the Dearborn Independent, a publication produced, as noted, by industrialist Henry Ford.[132] Today, however, in an age when overt antisemitism continues to be less acceptable, the sense of mistrust of Jewish people can intensify in more coded ways, amplified, rather than moderated, by the Ashkenazi Jewish relationship to hegemonic whiteness. So invisible as to “pass” among “us”, the threat of a conspiratorial, untrusted “other” is only heightened.

Efforts to dispel public confidence in historic facts about Jewish life and experiences of antisemitism speak to the reliance of reactionary interventions on conspiracy theories. Claims that deny the reality of the Holocaust have emerged periodically in recent decades, coding antisemitism as “merely” establishing “truth”.[133] A more recent iteration has arisen in France with wide potential reverberations internationally, through efforts to deny the historically proven innocence of Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935), a Jewish military officer tried on false charges of treason in 1894.[134] It was the extreme antisemitism expressed during the Dreyfus affair that served as a negative inspiration for then journalist Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), who came to spearhead the framework of modern political Zionism. The formative conclusion was that Jews and non-Jews could not live in peace together, even in the emancipatory conditions of France. Problematically ignoring, or rejecting, the vision of, for example, the Bund,[135] Herzl held that this demanded the need for a distinctly Jewish state.[136]

This brings us to the third and final example of how coding of antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism occurs in the current context, drawing upon symbolic marking for racist actions, including the threat or reality of violence. This is both discursive and embodied. A common myth, for example, is that Jewish people have distinctively large noses.[137] This is also a gendered form of racialization, as male religious Jews who wear distinctive head coverings, the kipah or yarmulke, are identifiable and can become targets of violence. Debates regarding ritual male circumcision similarly indicate the marking of the male Jewish body as “other”.[138] Various tropes associated with the queer-ish male Jewish intellectual, or the ostensibly overpowering Jewish mother, indicate the gendered dynamic of symbolic marking associated with anti-Jewish racism.[139] Collective gathering places, including synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, are recurrently targeted.[140] The 2018 armed shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in the US, killing 11 congregants, is an extreme example, but indicates the spectrum of marked violence.[141]

Again, these are hardly new inventions of the current period. Ominously, as Goldberg points out, years prior to the Nazis “final solution”, the regime was “obsessed with symbols”, not only to rally uniformed adherents, but also in the “marking of their victims, especially the Jews”.[142] This marking, Goldberg argues, included five phases. They moved from: turning the signifier “Jew” into a negative “master signifier”; to challenges to Jewish businesses and property; through forced naming of all Jewish men to add the name “Israel” and all Jewish women to add “Sarah” and stamping the letter “J” on passports; to the forced wearing of a badge signifying Jewish identity; and finally to the dehumanizing serial number tattoos of Jewish prisoners.[143]

This is not to suggest that all antisemitic comments imply explicit racialized anti-Jewish motivation. On the contrary, it is precisely the normalization of anti-Jewish racism and the casual acceptance of such coded tropes that requires recognition and analysis. Indeed, the far right’s “obsession with Jews” has a long history, but serves a particular purpose, as Lavin points out, in the present circumstances by offering “a broader intellectual framework” for racial animus, targeting Jews “to create a holistic system of depravity”.[144] There is a line between apparently casual or innocent antisemitism and racial violence – a line that can only be broken with explicit analysis and explanation.



Conclusion: From Analytic to Solidarity?

We are, with the 2023 Israel-Hamas war, in a rendezvous with history, where analogies of past trauma are rife. In many ways the establishment and defence of the state of Israel has served as a way for liberal democratic capitalist states to ignore their own histories and current expressions of antisemitism, but there are some signs that the Israel/Palestine racial contract is under strain. In response to the Hamas attacks of October 7 and unprecedented, potentially genocidal, militarized onslaught on Gaza, there have been numerous examples suggesting how solidarity is expressed across lines of differences. Within Israel the “Standing Together” group made up of Jews and Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship were working together as volunteers to help find missing people and deliver first aid in the wake of the October 7 attacks by Hamas.[145] Feminist peace coalitions involving Jewish Israeli and Palestinian women have been, and remain, in solidarity in their joint anti-war activism.[146]

In the United States, more than 300 Jewish activists donning “Not in Our Name” t-shirts were arrested for demanding a cease-fire inside the US Cannon House Office Building in Washington DC, a memorable moment in part of a larger protest organized through Jewish Voice for Peace.[147] In New York City, a rally organized by Jewish Voice for Peace drew 1000 demonstrators, beginning with a prayer, and then marching to the home of Senate majority leader Chuck Shumer, calling for the US government to demand a cease-fire.[148] Similarly, large protests were featured across Canadian cities including Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa.[149] Organized contingents of Jewish groups calling for an immediate cease-fire have emerged across Canada, with groups such as Independent Jewish Voices, the United Jewish People’s Order, and If Not Now actively engaged in solidarity initiatives.

On 11 November 2023, an Armistice/Remembrance Day protest in London, UK in support of the people of Gaza drew thousands, including Jewish protesters. Serving as a reminder of the issues that may draw those concerned about both anti-Palestinian racism and antisemitism together, this event was also met by a counter-protest from the far right. Here the far right clashed with police following the inflammatory charge of then Conservative Home Secretary Suella Braverman that the police were biased in favour of left-wing “mobs” supporting Palestine.[150]

The signs of solidarity we are seeing are emblematic, we suggest, of a potentially emergent counter-hegemonic movement that can challenge both anti-Palestinian racism and anti-Jewish racism. The situation in Gaza remains painfully tragic. However, a new solidaristic future could be built if there is clarity on how to do this. We suggest: the need to understand anti-Jewish racism as a form of racism; the importance of challenging a false equation of criticism of Israel’s policies with antisemitism; understanding anti-Jewish racism as historically variable and contextual; and seeing the need to oppose anti-Jewish and anti-Palestinian racism simultaneously and collectively.

We can perhaps see the current period building on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel which emerged in global civil society, based on a call directly from Palestinian civil society. Since the early 2000s this nonviolent movement has brought together those who are Jewish, Palestinian, and others in common cause. The movement has been advanced through discussions in labour unions, college campuses and churches (Davis 2016).[151] It has organized across lines of difference and across borders – and it is exactly this kind of mobilization that has inspired, perhaps, a more effective way to deal with anti-Jewish racism. It is our hope that advancing an analytic that can name and frame antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism, as well as anti-Palestinian racism, can also serve to widen conversations and support movements to challenge white nationalism as well as authoritarianism, which are increasingly the hallmark threats that have joined with extant class and other inequities in today’s liberal capitalist states. While these are conditions not of our choosing, we can nonetheless attend to the promise of making a better human history collectively.





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[1] This article is written equally and jointly by the co-authors. We are grateful to the Jewish Faculty Network (Canada) reading group, anonymous reviewers, and the Historical Materialism editorial board for helpful comments on an earlier draft. We also thank Annie Chau for expert research assistance.

[2] Ahmed 2015.

[3] Tharoor 2023; International Court of Justice 2023.

[4] Fischer 2023.

[5] Herzog 2023.

[6] See Appel 2023.

[7] Bakan and Abu-Laban 2009; 2020.

[8] In Radical Empathy: Finding a Path to Bridging Racial Divides political scientist Terri Givens addresses racial divides in the US and makes the case that radical empathy is based on six steps: willingness to be vulnerable; being grounded in who you are; being open to the experiences of others; practicing empathy; taking action; and creating change and building trust.

[9] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2021; 2022.

[10] Marx 1852 (1975): 103.

[11] Human Rights Watch 2021a.

[12] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2021.

[13] Ward 2021.

[14] McGreal 2023.

[15] Roth as cited in McGreal 2023.

[16] Hill and Plitnick 2021.

[17] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2021.

[18] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2022.

[19] Arab Canadian Lawyers Association 2022.

[20] Lerman 2022.

[21] Langmuir 1990: 311; Zimmerman 1986.

[22] Feldman 2018, p. 1140.

[23] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2020.

[24] Bakan 2014a.

[25] Hall 1980; 1985; 1986.

[26] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2020.

[27] Bakan 2024 (forthcoming); Abella and Troper 1983.

[28] Sacher 2005, p. 383; Dunbar-Ortiz 2021, pp. 162-65.

[29] Reiter 2016; Kellogg 2021; 2022; forthcoming 2023.

[30] Bensaid 2002; Harvey 2018; Fraser 2022.

[31] Marx 1844 (1975).

[32] Anderson 2010, p. 52.

[33] Bannerji 2014, p. 137.

[34] Bakan 2014; Rose 2004.

[35] Gramsci 1971.

[36] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2020.

[37] Bakan 2014b.

[38] Miliband and Liebman 2006.

[39] Arab Canadian Lawyers Association 2022; Ayyash 2023.

[40] Said 1978.

[41] Davis 1977; 2003; Human Rights Watch 2021a.

[42] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2022.

[43] Brodkin 1998.

[44] Bakan 2014b, pp. 258-66.

[45] Bakan 2014b, p. 261.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Said 1979; Pappe 2006.

[48] Balsam 2011; Freeman-Maloy 2006.

[49] White 2020.

[50] Shaloub-Kevorkian 2014; Lentin 2020.

[51] Dyer 2023; Muchnick and Kamarck 2023.

[52] Khalidi 2020.

[53] Rodinson 1973; Davis 1977; 2003; Cliff 2000, p. 9.

[54] Bhandar 2018; Wolfe 2016; Brown 2023.

[55] HRW 2021a; Falk, Dugard, and Lynk 2022.

[56] Wolf 2023; Hanieh 2003.

[57] See Said 1991; Hall 1980; 1985; 1986; Bakan and Dua 2014; Abu-Laban and Bakan 2020.

[58] Yuval-Davis 2018; Crenshaw 2020.

[59] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2020; 2021.

[60] Ayyash 2023.

[61] Harder, Kellogg, and Patten 2023.

[62] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2020, pp. 60-61.

[63] Webman 2010; Postone, 2006.

[64] Schroeter 2018, p. 1188.

[65] Webman 2010, p. 678.

[66] Schroeter 2018, p. 1181.

[67] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2009.

[68] Raum 1990.

[69] Kristof 2003.

[70] Callender 1956.

[71] Lang 2016.

[72] Rosenfeld 2018.

[73] See e.g., O’Neill 2021.

[74] Kuntzel 2017.

[75] Mather 2015.

[76] Lavin 2020, p. 127.

[77] Stewart 2023.

[78] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2020.

[79] White 2020; Canada 2018.

[80] International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance 2023.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Independent Jewish Voices 2020, p. 18.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Haiven 2022.

[85] Ayyash 2023.

[86] Gould 2020.

[87] Ojanuga 1993.

[88] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2020.

[89] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2020, pp. 66-67.

[90] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2020, p. 2.

[91] Israel n.d.

[92] Netanyahu cited in Chappell and Estrin 2019.

[93] Schroeter 2018, p. 1182.

[94] Schroeter 2018, pp. 1182-83; see also Postone 2006, pp. 97-102.

[95] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2020; Davis 2016; Couthard 2014; Sullivan and Tuana 2007; Pateman and Mills 2007.

[96] Harbani 2015-16; Nestel 2021.

[97] Hartzell 2018.

[98] United Jewish People’s Order 2022; Rouleau 2023.

[99] Traverso 2019.

[100] Jokic 2020; Lavin 2020; Gillies, Raynauld, and Wisniewski 2023.

[101] Select Committee 2022.

[102] Select Committee 2022, p. xiii; p. 38.

[103] Traverso 2016, p. 8.

[104] Ibid.

[105] Englert 2018, p. 172.

[106] Bakan 2014b, pp. 258-61.

[107] Arab Canadian Lawyers Association 2022.

[108] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2011, pp. 276-94.

[109] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2011, pp. 276-94.

[110] Lerman 2022.

[111] Brown 2019, p. 1.

[112] Brown 2019, p. 8.

[113] Merica 2017.

[114] Abu-Laban, Gagnon, and Trembly 2023, p. 318.

[115] Winston 2021; Rose 2022.

[116] Hartzell 2018.

[117] Kharroub 2018.

[118] Abu-Laban and Bakan 2021.

[119] Gramsci 1971.

[120] Dysart 2022; Arab Canadian Lawyers Association 2022; Nestel and Gaudet 2022.

[121] Kalmar 2020.

[122] Renton 2022.

[123] See Abu-Laban and Bakan 2021.

[124] Backhouse 1999, p. 7.

[125] Wilson 2018.

[126] Kalmar 2020, p. 182.

[127] See Kellogg 2021, pp. 258-62; McGeever 2019, p. 47.

[128] Wilson 2018.

[129] Human Rights Watch 2021b.

[130] Carlson 2021.

[131] Rose 2022.

[132] US Holocaust Memorial Museum 2023.

[133] Hasian Jr. 2002; Philips 2022.

[134] Henley 2021; Harris 2010.

[135] Jacobs, 2001.

[136] Herzl 1988 [1896]; 1941; Abu-Laban and Bakan 2020.

[137] Lipton 2018.

[138] Aguilar 2021.

[139] Boyarin, Itzkovitz, and Pellegrini 2003.

[140] Robertson, Mele, and Tavernise 2018.

[141] Ibid.

[142] Goldberg 2006, p. 124.

[143] Goldberg 2006, pp. 124-26.

[144] Lavin 2020, p. 44.

[145] McKernan 2023.

[146] Byrne 2023.

[147] Moyer and Silverman 2023.

[148] Stack 2023.

[149] Chiang 2023.

[150] Townsend et al. 2023

[151] Davis 2016.