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When does anti-Zionism become antisemitism?

In his latest book, Jewish Life in Medieval Spain, Jonathan Ray focuses on the tumult of the 14th century in Spain – a time of the plague, civil strife and war between the two largest kingdoms, Aragon and Castile, with frequent attacks against Jews. This culminated in riots in 1391, which resulted in deaths, destruction of property, rapes and forced conversions.

Ray describes an appeal the Jewish community made to the Spanish king in 1354, describing the hatred they faced:

Treating Jews as scapegoats during times of hardship is an ongoing feature of Jewish history. Some 100,000 Jews were murdered in Eastern Europe as part of the struggles following the 1917 Russian Revolution. These attacks were followed by the tragedy of the Holocaust.

Jews were also targeted in riots in the Middle East and North Africa during the Second World War. During the Farhud of 1941, for example, a violent mob attacked the Jews of Baghdad, killing up to 180 people, raping women and looting properties.

An awareness of this ongoing history of persecution is important to understand the trauma of the October 7 attack by Hamas in southern Israel, during which 1,200 people were killed (and some sexually assaulted) and around 240 were abducted. It was a watershed moment for Israelis, as well as the Jewish diaspora.

It also helps to understand the Jewish perspective on some of the rhetoric heard at global protests against Israel’s subsequent war in Gaza – and more broadly against Zionism – since October 7. To many, this equates to antisemitism.

When anti-Zionism leads to antisemitism

Much ink has been spilt on the issue of whether protests against Zionism, or anti-Zionism, are inherently antisemitic.

Certainly, within the academic realm, anti-Zionism