AP Photo/ Stefan Jeremiah

University administrations will continue to face difficult questions surrounding free speech this summer amid ongoing investigations into alleged antisemitism at student protests. But as for whether pro-Palestine or anti-Zionist rhetoric can be considered antisemitic, media outlets on the political left and right seem to have arrived at different conclusions. 

Since Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, college students nationwide have organized encampments on school grounds and expressed solidarity with Palestinians affected by the ensuing conflict, which some view as support for Hamas. 

Led by SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine), a national organization whose stated mission is to “elevate the student movement for Palestinian liberation,” demonstrators have called on their universities to support a cease-fire in Gaza and to divest from Israel. This would entail terminating all investments in companies that profit directly or indirectly from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

How Do Media Outlets Cover Purported Antisemitism?

Outlets across the political spectrum have reported on cases of alleged antisemitism at student encampments. 

The New York Times (Lean Left Bias) reported on Jewish Zionist students being ostracized from apolitical campus organizations like sports teams, and The Daily Wire (Right bias) posted clips of a student leader for Columbia’s encampment saying, “Zionists don’t deserve to live,” “What is a Zionist? A white supremacist,” and “Be grateful that I’m not just going out and murdering Zionists.” 

Despite these more explicit examples, outlets of different biases disagree on the extent to which anti-Israel speech amounts to discrimination or hostility against Jews. 

In 2018, The New York Times Opinion (Left bias)’s Michelle Goldberg published a column,“Anti-Zionism Isn’t the Same as Antisemitism,” prompting an article in response from a senior editor for The Federalist (Right bias) titled “Yes, Anti-Zionism Is The Same As Anti-Semitism.” 

In light of student demonstrations this past year, outlets on the left and right have revived this divide.

Sources like Pew Research Center (Center bias) have reported on polling figures surrounding the anti-Zionism/antisemitism debate. According to Pew, “Most Americans say speech supporting or opposing Israeli and Palestinian statehood should be allowed, but calls for violence should not.”


Opposing Arguments: Is Anti-Zionism Antisemitism? 

Zionism has been historically understood as the movement for the creation of a Jewish state in response to global persecution against Jews, with varying perspectives as to whether or not such moves are justified or allow Israel to exert undue influence over others. 

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) defines Zionism as “the movement for the self-determination and statehood for the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland, the land of Israel.” 

In recent years, however, groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) have reevaluated their stance on Zionism; JVP now claims to be “largest progressive Jewish anti-Zionist organization in the world” and is host to many of the Jewish students participating in encampments. 

After the 2014 Gaza War, in which over 2,000 Palestinians were killed, JVP released a statement on their newly anti-Zionist position, arguing that “Zionism, in practice, has resulted in massacres of Palestinian people” and “has always hierarchized Jews based on ethnicity and race.” 

This phenomenon is known as semantic polarization, in which opposing sides of a conflict can agree on a term’s basic, dictionary definition (i.e. Zionism is the movement for a Jewish state in Israel) but still interpret it in different ways depending on personal interests and contexts. While pro-Israel activists emphasize Israel is a Jewish state, pro-Palestine activists understand it as a state founded on the oppression of Palestinians and Zionism as a tool to exert that oppression.

RELATED: What 'Zionism' means to Liberals & Conservatives

Despite a common understanding of the term at hand, largely different concepts come to mind when pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel supporters heard the word “Zionist”. Therefore, they weigh the immediate consequences of Zionism (and anti-Zionism) differently as well. 

Those who believe anti-Zionism is not antisemitic argue that labeling criticism of Israel as such, particularly in regards to the state’s human rights violations, could dilute what “antisemitism” really means and takes focus away from genuinely hateful acts against Jews. 

Moreover, anti-Zionism has a deep history within the Jewish community. Not every Jew identifies as Zionist, nor does every Jew feel a tie to Israel. 

Progressive organizations like JVP argue that Zionism does not mean liberation for all Jews and is discriminatory against Jews from the Middle East and Northern Africa. 


               Flickr/ Alisdare Hickson

Zionists acknowledge the importance of criticizing Israel’s government but argue that disapproval of the state’s right to defend itself is antisemitic. 

Defending against critics of Israel’s military, the World Jewish Congress writes, “No other member of the international community would be expected to lay down their arms in the face of attacks by militants and lone-wolf terrorists, but time and again Israel is chastised for ensuring the safety of its civilians.”

Moreover, anti-Zionism denies the indigenous connection Jewish people have to the land of Israel and promotes long-standing conspiracy theories that Jews control global financial institutions and media organizations, as a means to achieve world domination (or support the existence of Israel itself).

Pro-Israel groups often cite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saying, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking antisemitism.” 

The divide over whether or not anti-Zionism is antisemitism cannot be laid out simply over a progressive-conservative axis, or even a pro-Palestine or pro-Israel one.

Jewish journalist Peter Beinart, a self-proclaimed former Zionist, asserts that his criticism of Israel, and advocacy for a one-state solution, does not “reflect a lack of concern for the welfare of Jews in Israel and Jews around the world, but are actually my best effort to take positions that I believe will lead to greater safety for us.” 

One can also be both anti-Hamas and anti-IDF, assuming an anti-war position as opposed to an anti-Israel or anti-Palestine one. 

Are Student Encampments Antisemitic?

The answer depends on if one’s definition of “antisemitism” includes anti-Zionism. 

Nevertheless, there’s one thing universities can be sure of: if they can’t foster better, safer spaces for free expression and debate, they risk alienating their existing and prospective student body. 

Nivriti Agaram is a Content Intern at AllSides. She has a Center bias.
This piece was edited and reviewed by Andy Gorel, News Editor and Bias Analyst (Center bias), Julie Mastrine, Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings (Lean Right bias), Joseph Ratliff, Content Designer and News Editor (Lean Left bias), and Malayna J. Bizier, News Assistant (Right bias).