Defining antisemitism

JVL is encouraged by this recently published definition of antisemitism issued by the Board of Deputies and the Community Security Trust


What is antisemitism?

Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice or hostility against Jews. It has existed for millennia and is still present today in the 21st Century. Antisemitism can be communicated verbally, physically, in written form or, increasingly, online.


Antisemitism has taken many forms, including religious, ethnic, racial-biological and nationalist. Occasionally, antisemitism will be blunt, obvious and easy to recognise. For example, using dehumanising language about Jews alongside grossly offensive pictures. At other times it is more subtle and coded.


CST defines an antisemitic incident is any malicious act aimed at Jewish people, organisations or property, where there is evidence that the incident has antisemitic motivation or content, or that the victim was targeted because they are (or are believed to be) Jewish.


We commend this definition to the Labour Party and public bodies to replace the deeply flawed IHRA document and will be pleased to work with the Board of Deputies and the Community Security Trust to secure its wide acceptance.

JVL continues to promote the declaration What is – and what is not –antisemitic misconduct that we produced jointly with Free Speech on Israel

Comments (27)

  • David Nissen says:

    Why accept Nationalist?
    That is the problem.

    • Mike Cushman says:

      We take nationalist in this context to mean the actions of nationalists both overt Nazis and modern day populists.

  • Jaap Bosma says:

    Isn’t this definition circular?
    “an antisemitic incident is … [an] incident [that] has antisemitic motivation or content”

    A better definition: antisemitism is hostility towards Jews as Jews (i.e. bc they were born Jewish or adhere to the Jewish religion in general),

    • Mike Cushman says:

      It is not circular. It helpfully means in any reasonable construction that “an antisemitic incident is ONLY AN ANTISEMITIC INCIDENT IF… [an] incident [that] has antisemitic motivation or content”. It brings in intent and forces the compalinaint ot establish why an incident is to be regarded as antisemitic.

      JVL prefers its own description of an antisemitic incident but, apart from that, this is by far the best on offer.

  • Jackie Horsewood says:

    Racism and prejudice is abhorrent in any form and against any sector of society. Criticism of a government is legitimate opinion and, without it, dictatorships and authoritarian regimes around the World would never be deposed. Hypocrisy in any language is unacceptable and the current IHRA definition lends itself to just that. I strongly commend the JVL definition to the Labour Party

  • James Hall says:

    “At other times it is more subtle and coded. ”

    i.e. ‘We can, as at present, make whatever preposterous and unevidenced claims of antisemitism that suite our ends.

    Do JVL really not spot this?

    • Mike Cushman says:

      But it is true that antisemitism ‘is more subtle and coded’. Dedicated Zionists will try and use anything and everything to undermine criticism of Israel but this definition breaks the link between antisemitism and Zionism and Israel. When courts have heard complainants try to establish that link they have roundly dismissed it as they did in Fraser v UCU.

      Of course there are risks, there always are, but this definition makes us much safer if it diminishes the standing of the IHRA document.

  • John says:

    Neither of these organisations have previously been paragons of truth.
    Why trust them now?
    Your endorsement could well end up being found to be badly mistaken.
    You need to be extremely careful as to what you wish for.
    As always !!

  • Alasdair MacVarish says:

    it is quite deceitful to claim that the Board of Deputies speaks for all Jews in UK. The evidence of a rise in anti-Semitism in the UK is scanty and largely produced by the Jewish Labour Movement in response to the emergence of a Labour Party leader not aligned to them or to the thoroughly racist Jewish National Fund.

  • Mike Collingham says:

    Makes good sense.

  • Jenny Secretan says:

    This seems certainly to be a great advance on the obfuscating IHRA definition. I would support it.

  • Robert Brady says:

    I’ve been of the opinion for some time that CLPs should adopt their own definition of Antisemitism avoiding any reference to the IHRA. The fear has been though, that this would cause a big Left/Right row. But this wording might just make it possible without giving grounds for splitting the Party?

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    I think we can hazard a guess that when the Bod/CST were negotiating a set of criteria with Facebook, the IHRA – with its huge range of dangerously interventionist ‘examples’ – just didnt make the cut. Because Facebook has plenty of experience of limiting ‘control’ over its social media offer, the BoD and CST found itself having to settle for a fairly basic definition without examples – which is not a million miles from the sort of thing JVL has pushed for. No reason that I can see why we shouldn’t welcome this! And constantly challenge the BoD as to why they expect the IHRA from the Labour Party, and much much less from Facebook!

  • Ian Saville says:

    This is a good enough definition of antisemitism to be useful to organisations and individuals. It is certainly clearer and more straightforward than the IHRA text, along with its paraphernalia of examples, mostly concerned with Israel. I think it is a good move on JVL’s part to commend it. I do suspect, though, that the BoD and CST may consider this as additional to the IHRA, rather than replacing it.

  • Philip Ward says:

    I agree that there is a problem with the way the term nationalist is used in this definition. The sentence lists forms of antisemitism as being essentially hostility to a jew because of their religion, ethnicity, biological race (whatever that is: there is no such thing as a biological race) and then uses the term nationalist. How else, in the context of that sentence, could you interpret that but as hostility to “their nation”?

  • Oo Er Corbyn! - What Big Marrows Ee Got! says:

    Hmmmm…. I am conflicted by the attacks on JVL by the CST and the Bored.

    So I’m wondering what a defensive Zionist would say about a definition of Jew hate that DOESN’T include criticism of Israel as being inherently anti-semitic…

    I know I’m probably cynical… but, sometimes omission is a strategy of entrapment too. While the IHRA is still being used as a weapon, I’ll stick with quoting the JVL version of what AS is as a true definition.

  • Declan Groves says:


  • John Howley says:

    It would be helpful if examples of these were given. ei examples of:
    “many forms, including religious, ethnic, racial-biological and nationalist”.

  • Richard Hayward says:

    “Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice or hostility against Jews”

    This needs more specificity to eliminate knee-jerk and spurious complaints that use conflict over particular views and attitudes to claim that they arise simply *because* a protagonist or antagonist is Jewish (as is the case with the anticipated drift of the IHRA examples).

  • Philip Ward says:

    I fail to understand why “antisemitism has taken many forms, including religious, ethnic, racial-biological and nationalist” is seen as a benign statement by JVL. To me, this is a piece of subterfuge by the BoD and CST. Note that the sentence refers to the FORMS of antisemitism, not its perpetrators. It is not talking about different types of antisemitic nationalists (perpetrastors), but about attacks on the different characteristics Jews may hold. Why would they list three adjectives describing these characteristics (one of which I’ve already pointed out doesn’t exist) and then start going on about perpetrators? Surely the fourth adjective is more sensibly describing a fourth characteristic that zionists consider Jews to hold, namely a common “nationality”, expressed concretely in the existence of Israel? From a linguistic point of view that makes much more sense.

    The claim of some “biological-racial” characteristic common to Jews is also deeply disturbing. As well as being completely unscientific (having its origins in British eugenics) this idea is a major concession to antisemitism.

    I don’t see anything in the history and past practice of the BoD or CST to suggest that this document constitutes some kind of departure from their virulent hostility to anti-zionists or from the vile tactics and smears they use against them.

  • dave says:

    Philip, I think I see the point you are making – it’s well set out by Brian Klug in a talk:

    “Spelling it out, it comes to this: antisemitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are. Or more succinctly: hostility to Jews as not Jews…

    “For, even if some real Jews fit the stereotype, the ‘Jew’ towards whom the antisemite feels hostile is not a real Jew at all: the figure of the ‘Jew’ is a frozen image projected onto the screen of a living person. The fact that the image might on occasion fit the reality does not change its status: it remains an image.”

  • I agree that this definition is better than the IHRA. Almost anything is!

    However it leaves a lot to be desired and I cannot believe it is intended as a substitute for the IHRA. It must be in addition to it.

    If the definition stopped after the first 8 words then I agree, it would be perfectly acceptable. However it doesn’t.

    Nonetheless I prefer either the OED definition of anti-Semitism: ‘hostility to or prejudice against Jews’ or alternatively Brian Klug’s definition
    ‘antisemitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are.’

    Antisemitism hasn’t existed as a form of racism for millenia. This is just an inversion of the anti-Semitic myth of the ‘eternal Jew’. For centuries, really up till the Spanish Inquisition anti-Semitism was primarily an economic antagonism to the role that Jews played as money lenders, tax stewards etc.

    The Board’s definition is also ahistorical because it takes no account of the changing nature of antisemitism. Economic anti-semitism, which often manifested itself as Christian antisemitism was qualitatively different from racial anti-semitism which began in the late 19th century in Germany although arguably the first manifestation of this was with the Marranos in Spain, who converted to Christianity but were perceived still as Jews and persecuted as such.

    It doesn’t take on board the anti-Semitism directed at Jews because they were perceived as the harbingers of Bolshevism, which is where Hitler’s antisemitism came from. It doesn’t include the Jew as a scapegoat. This definition is really about prejudice with discrimination thrown in for good effect, although in the West there is no discrimination at the level of the State.

    The definition says antisemitism has taken many forms – religious, ethnic, racial-biological and nationalist’. I’m not sure how useful it is dividing anti-Semitism like this.

    Yes nationalists could express their antisemitism as religious (Croatia), racial (Nazi Germany) ethnic (Poland) or racial-biological (Nazi Germany, Baltic Republics) but this does not advance our understanding of anti-Semitism today.

    Indeed the main form of anti-Semitism today, apart from that of the far-Right is when all Jews get blamed for the actions of Israel. But whose fault is that when Israel claims it acts as a Jewish state on behalf of all Jews?

    Contrary to the Board’s ‘millenia of anti-Semitism’ the primary evolution of antisemitism was between feudal religious and racial antisemitism which saw the creation of a hitherto unknown category in Germany of Jewish Christians. You were Jewish by race and Christian by religion. Indeed the Catholic Church’s opposition in many countries (Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia) was precisely to this category.

    Why is the method of communication of anti-Semitism in a definition? Why does it matter how it is conveyed?

    This definition is, as Stephen Sedley said, not a definition as it is open ended. Indeed it is probably worse than the 38 word definition of the IHRA! And certainly the CST definition which is in terms of an act, not subjective thought or speech, and which includes motive, is far better. It’s just a pity they don’t follow their own definition.

    However the CST definition is also problematic. Antisemitism today is primarily a prejudice not an act. There are very few antisemitic assaults. Anti-Semitism exists primarily in the realm of ideas, certainly in Britain. Anti-Semitic ideas do not materially or physically affect Jews and that is why antisemitism should be seen in the context of other forms of racism.

  • Tom Loeffler says:

    What is needed above all is a precise and succinct definition of antisemitic incidents that allows a definite and fair judgement of whether an act or statement is antisemitic or not.

    The CST definition given in the third paragraph of the extract from the Facebook/CST/BoD document (“CST defines…”) does just that. It includes the element of intentionality, which is vital.

    The first two paragraphs of the extract are less useful because they do not contribute to a precise definition, as has been highlighted by previous comments. Much of what is covered in these paragraphs applies to other forms of racism.

    In an ideal world, I would have liked to see mention of the relation of antisemitism to other forms of racism, to highlight the many shared features, including the role of assumed characteristics of the target group (stereotypes). In the real world, a definition that I can accept without reservations, and which I think will work in practice, is a major step forward.

    I am encouraged by the fact that the CST has been able to come up with a definition of antisemitism that is free of objections, and I hope that the CST and the BoD, together with JVL, will achieve rapid and widespread acceptance of the CST definition.

  • Miriam Yagud says:

    This is definitely an advance on the IHRA version which has been primarily used (and possibly also developed) to provide a protective wall around Israel against just criticisms and the growing strength of the BDS movement.
    I am glad JVL has decided to support it. It sends an important message out to those who accuse us of being unconcerned about Jewish life and the threat of antisemitism. By welcoming this statement, we show WE recognise a common threat to Jews even though many of the self appointed Jewish leadership/establishment seek to condemn us (JVL) and resist and deny that they have common cause with us as Jews.

  • Robert Sidaway says:

    I suggest: –

    Definition of anti-Semitism

    AntiSemitism is the combination of four factors.
    (1) An act or manifestation of a view;
    (2) That act or manifestation has an adverse effect upon of a group of people (or members of a group of people) or their rights or properties; alternatively that manifestation is of an adverse view of a group of people (or members of a group of people);
    (3) The Act is done or the view manifested because the people in that group are Jewish or followers of the Jewish religion;
    (4) The act or view is unjustified.

  • JanP says:

    This publication is a good start. It should include :
    1. How and when to take a screen shot – this might not occur to someone who has been shocked by a post as their first reaction may be to move on quickly. A screen shot is good evidence for reporting incidences.
    2. How to block individuals – preferably after reporting them – if you block them first you can’t screenshot anything they have posted. Blocking usually works – unless they set up another FB account.

  • JanP says:

    PS This definition is a welcome alternative to the IHRA. It is clear and easy to understand, as well as to interpret in practice. However I am concerned by the use of the word “nation “.

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