What is anti-Semitism, how is it defined and where does hostility to Jews come from?

More recently there have been claims anti-Semitism is rife among Jeremy Corbyn supporters in the hard left of the Labour party. Here's what you need to know.

What is anti-Semitism?

In basic terms anti-Semitism is hostility to, prejudice or discrimination against Jews, simply because they are Jewish.

Anti-Semitism can take many forms from conspiracy theories to outright verbal abuse and physical attacks on individuals or groups.

It can constitute a hate crime.

In 2016 Prime Minister Theresa May said: "It is unacceptable that there is anti-Semitism in this country.

"There will be one definition of anti-Semitism – in essence, language or behaviour that displays hatred towards Jews because they are Jews – and anyone guilty of that will be called out on it."

The term was first popularised in Germany in 1879.

In particular, the term refers to anti-Jewish sentiment rather than prejudice against all Semites, which technically includes Arabs and Assyrians.

How is it defined?

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which has been adopted by 31 countries as well as more than 130 UK local councils, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary, defines it in terms of 11 key areas:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective – such as especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (eg gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (such as claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Where does hostility to Jews come from?

Although difficult to pinpoint, initial anti-Semitic sentiments appear to have been expressed in the Greco-Roman world around the first century.

Judaism is a monotheistic religion – worshipping one god, whereas pagans worshipped many deities.

Christian believers have sometimes blamed the Jews as a whole for the death of Jesus at the hands of Pontius Pilate.

History is littered with anti-Jewish atrocities over the centuries, from the Rhineland massacres before the First Crusade in 1096 to numerous anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire from 1821.

Jews have faced suspicion and persecution across Europe, forcing whole communities to become refugees.
Jews in Nazi Germany were stripped of property and their liberty before the systemic murder of six million souls in the Holocaust.


What happened at the Pittsburgh Synagogue?

On October 27, a man armed with an AR-15-style rifle and at least three handguns and shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire inside a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

He killed at least 11 congregants and wounded four police officers and two others, the authorities said.

Suspect Robert Bowers has been charged with murdering 11 people as it emerged that another six were wounded.

In a rampage described as among the deadliest against the Jewish community in the United States, the assailant stormed into the Tree of Life Congregation and shot indiscriminately into the crowd.

A holocaust survivor and a married couple are among the victims. 

Rose Mallinger, 97, is the oldest victim of the shooting spree at the hands of alleged gunman Robert Bowers, who opened fire during a baby naming ceremony.

Married couple Sylvan Simon, 86 and Bernice, 84, were also gunned down in the Tree of Life synagogue during the Sabbath prayer.

Two brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, aged 59 and 54, were also murdered.

Other victims include 75-year-old Joyce Fienberg, 69-year-old Irving Younger and 65-year-old Richard Gottfried.

Another victim Melvin Wax, 88, was a retired accountant and was known for always being one of the first to arrive at synagogue and among the last to leave.

Physician Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, was among the victims and was described as a "truly trusted confidant and healer".

Grandfather Daniel Stein, 71, was also confirmed to be a victim of the massacre.

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