Is Criticizing Israel Antisemitic?

Is criticizing Israel anti-Jewish? Not necessarily. Israel — like all countries — is, and should be, subject to political criticism over its conduct. However, in many places where it is unacceptable to openly hate Jews, it is respectable to criticize the Jewish state, and so some bigots will say their problem is with Israel, when their real problem is with Jews. Here’s how to tell the difference between the good faith critics and the bad faith bigots.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. True or false? Criticism of Israel is always antisemitic:
    • True
    • False
  2. Israel is home to how many of the world’s Jews?
    • A quarter
    • All of them
    • A half
    • 10%
  3. Which of the following antisemitic conspiracies have been adjusted to be about Israel instead?
    • The blood libel
    • Control of politicians and the media
    • Control of the economy
    • All of the above
  4. From 2015-2019, of the 97 U.N. resolutions condemning individual countries, how many of the resolutions condemned Israel specifically?
    • 97
    • 22
    • 50
    • 83
  5. True or false? A claim against Israel can be offensive and wrong without being antisemitic.
    • True
    • False
  1. Why do you think antisemites sometimes use criticism of Israel as a smokescreen for their deep seated antisemitism?
  2. Is criticizing Israel antisemitic? At what point does legitimate criticism of Israel become antisemitic? Give concrete examples.
  3. The United Nations General Assembly from 2012 to 2015 has adopted 97 resolutions criticizing individual countries, and of those, 83 of them have focused on Israel, 86% of the total resolutions. Why do you think the U.N. condemns Israel so disproportionately? Think of three different reasons why this could be.
  4. The Unpacked video presents an analogy that explains why Israel attracts such an unreasonable amount of criticism: Criticizing former U.S. president Barack Obama doesn’t make someone racist, but as the first Black President, he naturally attracted vicious critics motivated by racism. Similarly, criticizing Israel doesn’t mean that someone is antisemitic,, but as the world’s only Jewish state, Israel naturally attracts many critics motivated by antisemitism. Can you think of any other real life examples of this phenomenon occurring to other people, groups or countries?
  1. Play “barometer” with your students. Designate one side of the room as agree and the other side as disagree. Have them stand along the spectrum where they most identify based on the following statements:
    • Anti-Zionism is always antisemitism
    • Criticism of Israel is never antisemitic
    • Calling Israel an apartheid state is antisemitic
    • The U.N. is antisemitic for focusing disproportionately on Israel
      After moving to where they most agree, students should discuss with the other students there why they chose that area and then open the conversation to the whole group to explain their stances. Students may change where they stand based on the conversation. This game can be played virtually as well by using the chat function and breakout rooms.
  2. Can your students identify antisemitism? After presenting the following three quotes/clips, use Natan Sharansky’s “3D test” to help your students recognize modern antisemitism.
    • “I think that additional settlement building does not contribute to Israel’s security. I think it makes it harder for them to make peace with their neighbors. I think it embitters the Palestinians in a way that could end up being very dangerous.” – President Barack Obama 2009
    • Video clip from MAGA Rally
    • Human Rights Watch calls Israel an Apartheid State
  3. Read both the IHRA (the internationally accepted definition) and JDA definitions of antisemitism in this article. Ask your students to vote on which definition they prefer and then explain their answers.
  4. Play our Kahoot about “Is Criticizing Israel Antisemitic?”
  1. Have you ever experienced criticism of Israel turn into antisemitism, in person or on social media? How did it make you feel and how did you react to it?
  2. If you live outside of Israel, how does it make you feel when you hear the media or other people criticize Israel? Are you particularly sensitive to it, do you barely notice it or are you interested in what is being said and have an opinion too?
  3. If you’re Jewish, why should you worry specifically about antisemitism when there are so many other examples of racism around the world that are worth fighting against?
  4. What is an example of something you feel comfortable criticizing Israel about? What is something that when you hear this criticism of Israel you find it to be objectionable but not antisemitic? What is an example of criticism of Israel that you find not just objectionable but also antisemitic?
  5. Does the source of the criticism of Israel matter or is all criticism the same? In your own life, for example, if your parent criticizes you, is it the same as if your friend criticizes you?

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