If a friend or colleague criticizes you for supporting Israel, or a colleague calls you a “colonial Zionist” during a debate about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, does that constitute antisemitism? Should you challenge them – and if so, how?

The short answer more often than not is YES. While it is absolutely ok to criticize the actions of the government of Israel – just as you might criticize the actions of the U.S. government or those of the Chinese government, blaming or even attacking American Jews for those actions for no other reason than their Jewish appearance or religious affiliation is antisemitic, pure and simple.

We do not tolerate attacks against Asian Americans just because of how we believe China is treating the Uighurs, nor do we tolerate attacks against American Muslims because of perceived actions of the Syrian or Saudi Arabian leaders, so why would we accept condemning American Jews for the acts of the government of Israel?

Below are answers to some commonly asked questions

Zionism is a millennia-old aspiration of Jews for self-determination in their ancestral homeland of Israel, a yearning dating back to biblical times (remember the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt). These historical ties of Jews to Israel are in many respects an integral part of their Jewish identity and shared ancestry. Over the years, Zionism has taken many forms and, more recently in the late 19th century, came to represent a national movement to formally re-establish a Jewish state in the land of Israel. Although Jews lived in the area throughout many generations, they began returning in larger numbers during the 19th Century, with their movement accelerating after World War II – when millions of Jews were systemically murdered by Nazis and many more forcibly displaced from their homes.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 (following the United Nations’ approved partition plan), Zionism has come to represent the belief that Jews have the right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland. Said differently, that the State of Israel has a continued right to exist safely as the one and only homeland for all Jews around the world.

A Zionist is someone who believes the Jews have the right to national self-determination in their ancestral homeland. With that, there is no contradiction between being a Zionist and believing that other peoples – including the Palestinians – also have the right to self-determination.

Anti-Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people do not have a right to self-determination and that the state of Israel should not exist.

Not all Jews are Zionists. A small minority (most notably certain groups of ultra-orthodox Jews) believes the Jewish people’s exile can only end with the arrival of the Messiah, and that human attempts to establish Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel are sinful. Another extremist, minority view holds Zionism as a settler-colonial movement aimed at establishing an apartheid state at the expense of Palestinians.

Nor are Jews the only Zionists. Some Christians believe that the return of Jews to their ancestral homeland supports biblical prophecy and would lead to the second coming of Jesus Christ. Others are also driven to support Zionism on scriptural grounds.

Some critics of Zionism accuse Israel of being a colonial state. However, the core drive of the Zionist movement is solely the re-establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel, a place where Judaism was born and one where Jews have lived since biblical times. This is not incompatible with Arabs also living and experiencing coexistent, self-determination there. Also as a reminder, the state of Israel was legally established following a United Nations vote approving its creation together with the termination of the British Mandate of that region in 1947.

As for any racism concerns, Israel today is the only true democracy in the Middle East, providing equal rights to all of its citizens regardless of their religion, race, color, or gender. In fact, today, Arabs represent over 20% of Israel’s population, enjoying the same rights as all other citizens, including representation in the Israeli government and parliament.

Anti-Zionism is viewed by many as a form of discrimination against Jews – that is a form of antisemitism – when it singles out the Jewish people by saying that they alone do not have a right to self-determination.

There is nothing antisemitic about policy disagreements with the government of Israel. Jews themselves, including Israelis, are sharply divided in their opinions of the government, just as Americans are sharply divided in our views of the U.S. government. This is the privilege of living in vibrant democracies. However, attacking people because they are Jewish is not about a policy dispute—it is about simple hatred. When anyone uses anti-Zionism to deny Jews the same rights as other peoples, it most definitely is antisemitic.

While many political debates surround the question of when anti-Zionism crosses into antisemitism, one accepted approach follows the “Three D’s” offered by Jewish leader and activist Natan Sharansky, also adopted by the U.S. State Department:

  1. Demonization: Using symbols associated with classic antisemitism to describe Israel or Israelis, promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories, or blowing Israel’s actions out of all sensible proportion
  2. Double Standard: Holding Israelis and Jews to a higher standard than would apply to any other nation
  3. Delegitimization: Denying the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their own homeland

Here are some examples:


  • Comparing Israelis or actions of Israelis to those of Hitler and the Nazis
  • Spreading ancient antisemitic blood libels such as blaming Israeli soldiers for deliberately killing Palestinian babies

Double Standard

  • Blaming Israel for acts such as defending itself against terrorist attacks that you would not criticize any other country for
  • Removing a Jewish student from groups or leadership positions because of their presumed support of Israel


  • Describing Zionism as a “racist movement” or claiming that Israel’s mere existence is a racist endeavor
  • Promoting the elimination of Israel as a homeland to the Jewish people

You can also find examples in the internationally recognized Working Definition of Antisemitism developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and accepted by over 30 nations including the United States.

Of course. One can support Israel’s right to exist while at the same time, criticize its government’s treatment of Palestinians – just as we believe in the United States, but may disagree with how our government treats immigrants or the homeless.

Regardless of your personal views, it is best to educate yourself on the topic so that you are better prepared to engage with others. A healthy political debate is always welcome, but demonizing Israel and Jews in ways that you would not otherwise demonize other Americans, or denying Jews the right to have their own homeland, can constitute antisemitism and should be challenged.

Criticism and open discussion is the life-blood of our country and our American culture. But this can only be possible when done in a genuinely respectful manner where all sides can be equal parties to the conversation. Intimidation and harassment should never be tolerated in any environment. After all, you would likely condemn harassment of Asian Americans over the purported acts of the Chinese government, so why would we tolerate or support similar action against Jewish Americans?

If you’d like to educate yourself further, below are links to some useful material: