Understanding Antisemitism

Since October 7 the Online Hate Prevention Institute has been concerned with the rise of antisemitism, efforts to normalise antisemitism in society, and efforts to undermine or wrongly dismiss concerns about antisemitism. One of the most egregious examples of this occurred in an SBS article where, rather than consulting an expert in antisemitism, SBS asked an expert in Islamic studies and the Middle East to define antisemitism. The expert defined it as “really anti-the faith” of Judaism. The definition they gave is not only wrong, but harmful.

Some antisemitism, like that of the Spanish Inquisition, was indeed anti the Jewish religion. Jews who converted to Christianity escaped at least the worst of the Inquisition’s antisemitism. Other antisemitism is not about religion at all, but a form of racism. People with a single Jewish grandparent were marked for death by the Nazis, regardless of the religion they professed. Those who desecrate Jewish cemeteries, graffiti synagogues, or threaten children wearing uniforms of Jewish schools, claiming it is a response to Israeli policies, are also engaging in antisemitism. We need to recognise all these forms of antisemitism and the many other manifestations it takes.

Our CEO, Dr Andre Oboler, lodged a complaint about the article with the SBS Ombudsman on November 9th. The complaint has now been upheld and the article edited to remove the incorrect definition. Dr Oboler responded saying: “I welcome the complaint being upheld, and the correction, but more needs to be done to push back on efforts to minimise or dismiss concerns about antisemitism. It feels like discriminates against Jews is tolerated in ways that conduct discriminating against other communities would never be tolerated. Jewish victims of discrimination are blamed for the discrimination they face in a way that would cause an outcry were the victims from any other community.”

The article still claims the term ‘antisemitism’ is used “quite loosely” and in relation to criticism of Israeli policy. The IHRA definition, which is widely accepted by the Jewish community and most Jewish organisations in Australia and globally, is quite clear that criticisms of Israeli policy that are similar to those made against any other country are not antisemitic. Claims that such criticism is antisemitic are rare.

What is far more common is the person doing the criticising of Israel putting words into the mouth of those who disagree with them, claiming they were subjected to a false claim of antisemitism. They do this to silence anyone responding to their content with a different view. Some social media influencers go further, misrepresenting what people has said, and seeking to set their online mobs to attack them. In some cases, those targeted have received large volumes of death threats.

As a society need to stop permitting this intolerance. We need to understand that antisemitism is nothing more or less than hatred toward or discrimination against Jews. It may take the form of racism, xenophobia, religious vilification, conspiracy theories, or other manifestations that are well documented and understood by scholars in the field. Whatever form it takes, it is not to be tolerated. Giving it added room to grow hurts not only the Jewish community, but society as a whole.