Is it Antisemitism? If It Is, Now What? Guidance for a Post-October 7th World 

November 15, 2023Rabbi Toby Manewith

Antisemitism has often been called “the oldest form of hate.” The Jewish people have been persecuted for thousands of years, long before this hatred had a name. While antisemitism has never disappeared, it has taken many shapes at different times and in different locations. In recent years, we have seen a troubling resurgence of anti-Jewish hate spreading online and in communities around the world.  

The most recent spike in antisemitism is directly linked to the Israel/Hamas War, which began on October 7, 2023. Historically, antisemitism reaches higher levels when Israel is in active conflict with another entity. In the last decades, these entities have been several terrorist organizations. For many inside and beyond the Jewish community, Judaism and Israel are inextricably linked. In the minds of some, when Israel has done something they find objectionable, all Jews are complicit. 

Before sharing some tools for facing and combating antisemitism, it’s important to have a clear understanding of exactly what antisemitism is.  

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) uses the following working definition of antisemitism: “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.” 

You know that a swastika painted on the side of a building or a chant of “Jews will not replace us” is antisemitic. Here are some other examples:  

  • Denial that Jews have faced oppression or are a marginalized community. 

  • A statement or sentiment that Jews control the banks, media, or have undue influence in government. 

  • Denial of one’s Jewish identity, such as “You can’t be Jewish if you are x (Black, Korean, Mexican, etc.).” 

The brutal attack and massacre of Israelis on October 7th and Israel’s subsequent response in Gaza has evoked many feelings, sometimes conflicting emotions such as grief, anger, sadness, frustration, and worry. As members of the Reform community, we: 

  • Stand with Israel and with the Jewish people. Our hearts and minds are with the victims of Hamas’s brutality and murder, and we hold close the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced and cannot return to their homes. 

  • Call for the immediate return of all hostages. 

  • Believe in Israel’s right and responsibility to defend itself.  

  • Call for continual humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people and the minimization of the deaths of innocent Palestinians.  

  • Ensure that we act with tolerance and humanity towards those with whom we disagree.  

Anti-Israeli government or pro-Palestine comments in and of themselves are not antisemitic, though you may disagree with them or find them uncomfortable. For example, the acts below are not considered problematic:  

  • Disagreeing with the Israeli government’s statements or actions 

  • Wearing a t-shirt with a Palestinian flag 

  • Advocating for Palestinian self-determination 

  • Mourning the deaths of Palestinian people in Gaza 

There are times when anti-Israel rhetoric becomes antisemitic. Natan Sharansky, who faced antisemitism in the Soviet Union before he became a leader in Israel, uses the criteria he’s dubbed “the three Ds” as a test for antisemitism: 

  1. Delegitimizing or denying the Jewish people our right to self-determination 

  1. Demonizing Jews by portraying us as evil or blowing Israel's actions out of sensible proportion 

  1. Subjecting Israel to double standards  

For example, these are all considered antisemitic rhetoric: 

  • Suggesting that Israel is perpetrating genocide or ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people. Israel is not seeking to wipe out an entire ethnicity. Rather, it is working to stop terrorists. More that 20% of Israeli citizens identify as Palestinian or Arab. They attend school, participate in the economy, and serve in the government.   

  • Suggesting that Israel’s actions can be compared to Nazism. 

  • Cheering for or promoting images of violence against Jews in or outside of Israel. 

  • Using the phrase “from the river to the sea,” an allusion that Jews be wiped out from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which is the entirety of the Land of Israel. 

The words “Free Palestine” in and of themselves are not antisemitic. As Reform Jews, we hope and work for a time when Palestinians and Israelis can live freely and peacefully as neighbors. However, from the perspective of Hamas and the people and governments that support it, the “free Palestine” they envision means the destruction of Jews and Israel. Ismail Haniyeh, chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, recently said, referring to Israel: “Today, the enemy has had a political, military, intelligence, security and moral defeat inflicted upon it, and we shall crown it, with the grace of God, with a crushing defeat that will expel it from our lands, our holy city of al Quds, our al Aqsa Mosque…” Read the full statement on the Wilson Center’s webpage. 

For more information on free speech, read the URJ’s 1995 resolution on first amendment rights, and take a look at the ADL’s booklet of FAQs about free speech

What can you do? First, take care of your physical and spiritual health: 

  • Do not attend non-peaceful counter-protests. Conflict attracts media attention, your point will likely not be heard, and some protests have the potential to become violent. 

  • Take a social media break or stick to newsfeeds you trust. Being flooded with negative images and sentiments has proven to negatively impact mental health.  

If you would like to speak with someone who has said or done something hurtful or who is misinformed, read Zioness’s guide to antisemitic tropes and countering them

If you have been affected by or witnessed an antisemitic event:  

  • High School: bring the incident to a counselor or someone on the disciplinary staff as well as a guardian.  

  • College: bring it to campus safety or the office of student protections.   

  • If a teacher has expressed antisemitism while teaching or speaking at or on behalf of the school: 

  • High School: bring it to the administration as well as a guardian.  

  • College: bring it to the department head. If this is not successful, you can then bring a complaint to a dean or provost.  

  • If you need further resources: 

  • High School: Many districts have offices of student safety. There are free law clinics devoted to school issues in many cities. 

  • College: Hillel or other Jewish organizations on campus may have navigated this before and likely know the process and have contacts. Concerned parents can contact the parents’ office. 

 If you need comfort or your soul needs recharged: 

  • Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while (don’t text). 

  • Send a note to your childhood rabbi (if you have one).  

  • Take a walk or hit the gym. Don’t forget to blast your favorite music. 

  • Find a local congregation and attend Shabbat services. 

  • Say a prayer for Israel. 

  • If you went to a Jewish summer camp, check social media. Many camps have programs to support you. 

  • Grab some colored pencils and write or draw what you’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing.  

If you would like to take another step after fighting antisemitism to promote dialogue with other students, here are a few resources: 

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