Antisemitic or not? Why it is important to be accurate on antisemitism

When media covers Israel differently than any other country or conflict, critics correctly call this antisemitism.

 People demonstrate in solidarity with Israel and against antisemitism, in Berlin (photo credit: REUTERS/CHRISTIAN MANG)
People demonstrate in solidarity with Israel and against antisemitism, in Berlin

It is essential to be accurate when using the term antisemitism. When one demonizes Jews or the Jewish State, applies double standards or delegitimizes either, it is absolutely appropriate to speak of antisemitism. 

Thus, when the media covers Israel differently than any other country or conflict, critics correctly call this antisemitic. Nonetheless, it is important to differentiate between premeditated biases with a particular vengeance, such as is often the case with the New York Times, or when things stem from a lack of knowledge or unacceptable custom.

The list of factors to consider when speaking about the media is long and includes such things as what supposed experts are interviewed, what wording or terminology is used, etc. Frequently, the content of articles may be accurate and include all information, while its headlines or photographs will nonetheless create a bias against the supposed aggressor, such as after an attack on Israel. Instead of truthful headlines, which state who initiated a conflict, such as “Palestinian terrorists kill…,” typical headlines (which often do not necessarily come from the authors of the articles themselves, by the way) will focus on Israel’s reaction, such as “Israel bombards…”; “kills…”; or “Israel this or that.” Only the bylines might mention what instigated Israel’s self-defense. Other times, one has to read an entire article to understand that Israel is not a brutal Goliath which attacks at will.

Thanks to the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, there is now a guideline to which the media and others can be held accountable. The availability of such a widely accepted definition has also helped in narrowing down antisemitic hatred stemming from organizations like BDS, which have persistently been proven to be directed against not only Jews in all of Israel but against Jews all over the world. Likewise, there can no longer be talk of criticism of Israel when the Jewish State is being demonized or when hostile regimes seek to eliminate it. But where does this leave the aforementioned subtleties in the media? Is an organization, an individual, or an entire newspaper antisemitic, because of the publication of one questionable article, headline, or photograph?

A good example in this context is the recent list of the top antisemitic incidents, which the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) published. While there can be no doubt that entities such as the Iranian regime or Hamas, which both seek to destroy Israel, belong on such a list, Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission Coordinator on combatting Antisemitism, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, along with many prominent organizations and activists, rightfully questioned how the Antisemitism Commissioner of the State of Baden-Württemberg, Michael Blume, could be included in such a list. Not only do fellow German Antisemitism Commissioners and Jewish communities vouch for Blume, but he has also been praised by those closely working with him for his stand against BDS and all forms of antisemitism.

This is where the fine line comes into play. Naturally, there is a reason why the SWC criticized Blume, but should undiplomatic reactions or inappropriate likes on social media years ago justify him being on a list with the likes of Iran? His inclusion, which will hopefully be reversed, in fact, demeans the importance of the definition of antisemitism and highlights why it is so important to use the term ‘antisemitic’ judiciously. 

Questioning, opposing, and reacting to things is an absolute necessity, but it is ever so important to be accurate and to make sure we do not fall into our inner trap of using the accusation of antisemitism in an inflationary manner. Our accuracy with using the term will keep it strong and effective.  

Sacha Stawski is the President of Honestly Concerned, an initiative to fight biased media coverage of antisemitsm in Germany and the conflict in the Middle East. Stawski also heads the pro-Israel German group "ILI – I Like Israel".

This op-ed is published in partnership with a coalition of organizations that fight antisemitism across the world. Read the previous article by Liora Rez.