Anti-Semitism vs. anti-colonialism

It is Israel and its supporters who conflate Israel with all Jews, and then claim that condemning Israel, its laws, policies, actions and ideology amounts to condemning the Jewish people. 

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Much of the ongoing acrimonious and toxic debate in Britain about allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party centers on expressions of opposition to Israeli laws, policies, ideologies, actions and declarations.

No thinking person, for example, is expected to believe that descriptions of Jews as engaging in a “worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization,” as Winston Churchill accused “international Jews” of doing in the Sunday Herald in 1920, are not anti-Semitic.

Similarly no thinking person is expected to believe that statements describing the immigration of East European Jews to Britain as causing “undoubted evils,” as Lord Arthur Balfour warned in 1905, are not anti-Semitic (both Churchill and Balfour were key and powerful supporters of the Zionist movement).

The ongoing fight in Britain is fundamentally not over those few marginal racists who still believe in some Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, but over whether labeling Israel as a colonial-settler state is anti-Semitic, or whether anti-colonial resistance to Israeli settler-colonialism and racist laws constitutes anti-Semitism, or whether questioning the legal and institutional religious, racial and colonial privileges accorded to Israeli Jews over the indigenous Palestinians constitutes anti-Semitism.

This is a most perplexing debate for any political observer, as it is Israel that claims to be “the Jewish state,” and that it represents the Jews of the world, even though a majority of them are not Israeli citizens.

Having it both ways

The contradiction that informs this British debate (or its French, German or US equivalents) is that the pro-Israel side is the side that invites people to believe, alongside Israel’s leaders and ideologues, that Israeli actions are in fact Jewish actions, and that Israel represents the Jewish people.

Note that the Zionist movement chose to name its state “Israel,” which is the name accorded by the Torah to Jacob, wherein the children of Israel, or Bnei Yisrael, become the Jewish people. Thus “Israel” in fact meant and means “the Jewish people.”

In naming its state “the Jewish people,” the Zionist movement conflated and conflates its colonial project with all Jews, even when the majority of world Jewry did not support the movement and continues to refuse to live in, and become citizens of, Israel.

Therefore, it is imperative to emphasize that it is Israel and its supporters who conflate Israel with all Jews, and then claim that condemning Israel, its laws, policies, actions and ideology amounts to condemning the Jewish people. What is elided is that the most anti-Semitic of claims in this debate are in fact those precise claims advanced by the Israeli government and its British supporters.

The majority of those in Britain and outside it who condemn Israeli laws, policies and actions, condemn Israel’s colonial-settler policies and actions and its dozens of racist discriminatory laws – including the Jewish “nation-state” law passed only last month – and not its Jewishness.

However, the nation-state law reaffirms yet again that Israel is “the national home of the Jewish people” and not of Israeli citizens of all ethnicities and religions, and that “The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”

Supporters of Israel cannot have it both ways: They cannot claim that the Zionist movement has a right to colonize the land of the Palestinians in the name of Jews, and that the movement has the right to privilege Jews and to oppress and discriminate against the Palestinian people in the name of Jewish people, and that it has the right to pass racist laws in the name of Jews, and that it has a right to name its state “the Jewish people” for whom it speaks, and then after all that advance the claim that those who condemn Israel are condemning Jews.

A proper definition

Ironically, it is the majority of Israel’s critics, in contrast to the majority of its supporters, who reject Israeli claims that Israel represents all Jews and insist that Israeli racist laws and colonial policies represent the Israeli government and not the Jewish people. When Palestinians resist Israeli colonialism and racism, they are not resisting the “Jewish” character of Israel but its racist and colonial nature.

Critics of Israel in Britain and elsewhere must assiduously and vociferously condemn Israel’s leadership and its supporters in Britain and elsewhere for pushing this anti-Semitic line, at the same time as these critics condemn Israeli settler-colonialism and racist laws and practices.

If there should be a definition of anti-Semitism to be adopted by the Labour Party (or any other political party or institution) in Britain today, it should include the condemnation of anti-Semitic and colonial expressions such as: “Israel is the Jewish state,” or “Israel is the state of the Jewish people” or Israel “speaks for Jews,” or colonizing the land of the Palestinians is a “Jewish value.”

It is these anti-Semitic claims that tarnish Jewish communities around the world, and not opposition to Israeli colonialism and racism.

Joseph Massad is professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University in New York. His most recent book is Islam in Liberalism (University of Chicago Press, 2015).




Professor Massad has articulated with unsparing logic the fraudulent nature of the "antisemitism" campaign against critics of the Israeli state.

When we take Zionism's supremacist claims at face value, we're called anti-Semites. On the other hand, when we reject that doctrine of ethnic privilege, we're still called anti-Semites. The word "Zionist" now has become a bifurcated term: it connotes a noble, joyous celebration of all that's best in life- when spoken by its adherents. When uttered by its opponents, however, the word is redefined as a racist epithet to be shunned or even prohibited.

We are rapidly approaching the point at which it becomes possible to discern a final destination in this crazy journey. Opposition to Israel is by definition illegitimate, and we are not to be allowed to avail ourselves of the creed and lexicon of Zionism for any purpose beyond expressions of admiration and contrition. This campaign aims to make of the majority of people in Britain a sub-caste, as Zionists have done to Palestinians, people whose exercise of a basic right demonstrates their unfitness to do so.

This extension of the doctrine of Jewish supremacy to large countries with small Jewish populations presents a bizarre spectacle. It's as if Zionists are bent on playing the role anti-Semites have traditionally ascribed to Jews, that of a powerful disloyal elite manipulating economic forces and political discourse to serve a treacherous end. I emphasise, that's the sort of thing real anti-Semites believe about Jews. And it's the image Israel is doing all in its power to project onto Jewish populations in the U.K., the U.S. and elsewhere. Zionism is in this sense a variety of antisemitism for Jews. Its followers conduct themselves as grotesque carnival-like caricatures and bark impossible commands at passersby, including bemused Jews.

Again, thanks for this fine analysis of the issue from Professor Massad. His contributions always illuminate.


The mainstream British press, including the supposedly liberal Guardian, is obsessed with claims about Labour Party antisemitism. Just accept the IHRA definition we are admonished and all will be well - except it won’t be. Israel government supporters are using (and will increasingly use) the IHRA definition to banish commentary such as that of Professor Massad from public discourse.


The whole Israeli directed attack on Labor and Corbyn is about preventing a party and a leader coming to power who will not blindly support Israel as
Blair and others have. Charges of anti semetism are just a tool in a larger
goal of stifling any criticism of Israel and any support for the Palestinians.
Appeasing them just plays into their hands


"In naming its state “the Jewish people,” the Zionist movement conflated and conflates its colonial project with all Jews, even when the majority of world Jewry did not support the movement and continues to refuse to live in, and become citizens of, Israel."

This has to be the weakest ongoing argument. By that logic, Pakistan and Iran should represent all Muslims. How can both of them do that? How can one of them?


People don't hate Israel. They hate what Israel is and does. Occupier, coloniser, apartheid State maintained by a murderous military which denies human and civil rights to nearly six million Palestinians purely for the 'crime' of being non-Jews.
People hate all Israel represents. Religious bigotry and a betrayal of rule of law, democracy, human rights, justice and common human decency.

Israel is hated for the same reason Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin and all the other tyrants in human history have been hated. Stop blaming others and look at what you are.


The professors comments are correct, but i am more interested in the anti semetic laws that define anti semetism. I believe that the current A/S law is a racist law, it promotes racism and stifles free speech. Why is it that we can say things, good or bad about any country, any leader, any laws, any ideology, any organisation, any beliefs and any cultures and traditions, and not be called a racist, and yet as soon as anyone say anything that is different to Israel you are instantly called a racist. There are constant negative comments about muslims and Islam but its ok to do so, politicians around the world make these comments on a daily basis but nothing is being said about them. As proffesor Massad mentioned Israel do not speak on behalf of Jewish people, Israel speaks on behalf of zionist people in Israel. For world leaders to strongly believe in zionism and all that it encompass is a worrying time for the world. The true reality of zionism is that they have never fought for anyone they help create the problem and let other people do the fighting. Do not forget, millions of muslims fought and died during the two world wars to help defeat evil racist facist, and thus preserve and protect the Jewish people.