‘Zionist(s)’ as an antisemitic code word

By Ella Mishan

This briefing discusses the use of the term ‘Zionist(s)’ to disguise antisemitism. The examples in this briefing were all collected in New Zealand and are part of what people in New Zealand are seeing in social media.

Zionism as a Code Word

Compared to years past, people are much more sensitive today to racism and bigotry. Some social media platforms have also become far less tolerant of overt hate speech and there is at least a chance that racist comments will be removed and repeated violations might lead to a social media account being suspended. In response, some people have become proficient at hiding their racist and xenaphobic inclinations by using code words to avoid being  called out or banned from social media platforms. One form of codewords has been the use of the term Zionist a proxy for Jewish and/or Israeli people. 

The use of the term “Zionist” instead of “Jew” has caused some to be confused over where the line lies between freedom of speech and hate speech. Free speech means people have a right to share their opinion about other countries, religions, global issues, political parties etc. It does not give people a right to express negative stereotypes about people or groups of people based on factors such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, etc. The policies at Meta (which apply to Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Threads, etc) state clearly that they “don’t allow users to attack others based on their protected characteristics such as nationality or religion”. Where “Zionist” means Jews, it breaches this policy as an attack based on religion. Where Zionist means Israeli it breaches this policy as an attack on nationality. 

Zionism and the Jews

So what is Zionism when it isn’t being used as a code word? Zionism is supporting the “movement for (originally) the re-establishment and (now) the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel”. It has many roots and many flavours, some secular and some religious, but this is a common core most Zionists would accept and then add to depending on their specific flavour of Zionism. The Jewish Virtual Library provides details on the history and variety of types of Zionism. 

The vast majority of Jews are Zionists. In the United States, for example, “88% of Jewish voters self-identify as ‘pro-Israel’” and could therefore be considered Zionists. The US accounts for around half of all Jews globally, and the US Jewish population is far from an anomaly when it comes to the connection between the Jewish community and Israel. A large-scale survey in Australia found that only 13% of Australian Jews identify as “not Zionist” while almost 80% explicitly identified as Zionist. Recent polling in the UK found only 6% identified as “not Zionist” with 80% explicitly describing themselves as Zionists. When a belief is so strongly tied to a community, references to people who hold that belief are a reference to that community by another name. 

This does not mean one can’t disagree with the policies of the State of Israel, many Zionists spend many hours arguing over what the right policies for Israel should be. Nor does it mean one can’t critiques Zionism. Any belief system political, religious, or otherwise, can be critiqued. One can critique Judaism explicitly (as many studying theology do) without being antisemitic. There is, however, a difference between such a critique based on the texts and beliefs of an ideology, and attacks on people who are affiliated with it.  

Social media platforms are struggling to properly identify when Zionism or Zionist is being misused to facilitate hate speech. This is true even on more strictly monitored platforms like Facebook and Instagram. When the word “Zionists” is used they don’t always recognise that it is simply a substitution for Jews in traditional antisemitic tropes. 

On Facebook

A comment on a Facebook post said “the Zionists are in the publishers back pockets”. This plays into the antisemitic narrative of “Jews controlling media” which is a conspiracy theory popularised by the notorious antisemitic publication the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

On X (Twitter)

A more modern version of this antisemitic narrative can be seen in our second example which comes from X (Twitter). The post says that it “exposes how the zionists are controlling the narrative online”. Once again instead of the traditional language saying “Jews” are controlling the media, it says “Zionists”. This doesn’t change the narrative at all, nor make it any less antisemitic. 

On Reddit

Our third example is from Reddit andt talks about ‘Zionists’ being “extremely coordinated in trying to make the US a pariah”. It insinuates the ‘Zionists’’ control over ‘free speech’ and ‘censorship of others’ which again promotes the classic antisemitic conspiracy theories seen in the Protocols, those of Jewish control of government and societal institutions. The use of such recognisable and traditional antisemitic tropes, in circulation long before the existence of the State of Israel, makes it obvious that ‘Zionist’ is merely a substitute for saying ‘Jew’.

On LinkedIn

On LinkedIn we found a post linking to an article from a Sydney based newspaper. The article is titled “Lakemba Ramadan Night Market complaints over ‘anti-Israel’ chants” features a video of the activities being complained about. The post sharing the video is critical of the article and media. The poster writes, “This is what the media are good for, fuelling hate. They rarely report on what is actually happening in Gaza and when they do they make sure to cast doubt on the source.”  The post continues by listing what it says is happening in Gaza before continuing, “This is the reality in Gaza yet the Daily Telegraph chooses to report anti Israel sentiment in Sydney’s Islamic community.” These comments are not antisemitic but political speech. They give context to a comment made on the post that does cross the line into antisemitism. 

The comment reads “paid by Zioinist monsters” and emoji of a monster. The comment is an example of the an antisemitic trope of Jewish media control. In this case the use of ‘Zionist’ is once again a stand in for Jews. It also makes explicit an antisemitic narrative of “wealthy Jews” exercising control through finance. In reality the Daily Telegram is part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire and he is not Jewish, and in fact once had to apologise for making similar statements about Jewish media control (despite how much of the media he personally owns). The comment “paid by Zioinist monsters” only makes sense as a false antisemitic conspiracy based assertion of Jewish power and media control. 

On Instagram

This comment on Instagram describing “Zionists (as a) Satanic Cult” uses known antisemitic rhetoric of the Jews being ‘the devil’ and/or ‘satanic’ to expose the commenters real intention in describing Jews when they say ‘Zionists’. “In medieval Christian folklore and artwork, Jews were depicted with grotesque characteristics (that parallel the) devil … and other satanic features to portray the differences between Christianity and Judaism”. Today the devil/satan is used to describe what is evil in the world.


Social media companies need to better identify when “Zionism” and particularly “Zionist” is being used as a replacement for “Jews” in order to promote antisemitic narratives online. Some companies started looking at this earlier this year. Our work shows that clearly not enough has yet been done to prevent such antisemitism, and this is a problem across many social media platforms.