Antisemitism: A Guide for the Perplexed

In a season of widespread condemnation of antisemitism, many struggle to define it. I can imagine having this conversation with any number of people trying to understand this age-old phenomenon:

Question: I’m having trouble making sense of some of the claims and counterclaims being made about what is, or isn’t, antisemitic speech and behavior. To be honest, it doesn’t help that so many prominent Jews have sharply different takes on the subject.

Answer: Two Jews, three opinions.

That sounds like a stereotype.

It is. It’s also one of the few things that most Jews agree is true of us as people.

OK, so in your opinion and a half, what is antisemitism?

It’s a conspiracy theory that holds that Jews are uniquely prone to use devious means to achieve malevolent ends and must therefore be opposed by any means necessary, including violence.

Is that the commonly accepted definition?

No, it’s my own. A more widely cited definition comes from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which defines antisemitism, in part, as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” But the phrase “a certain perception” raises more questions than it answers.

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