If 'antisemitism' is no different to 'racism', then why is it necessary to have a separate "...ism" that relates specifically to only one religious/racial group?

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    To clarify, do you mean anti-"Jews as a race" or anti-"Judaism as a religion" ? There's a heap of crossover there which muddies things unfortunately. As a test, can you swap in "anticatholic" or "negrophobic" into the sentence ?
    – Criggie
    Sep 3, 2018 at 8:27
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    Please don’t edit questions to significantly change their meaning, or to add in commentary and opinion. If you have another question, or if you wanted to ask something different in the first place, ask another question. And if you have an opinion on this yourself, you are encouraged to answer your own question. But don’t put that as part of the question itself.
    – divibisan
    Nov 28, 2019 at 17:55
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    As mentioned before - please don't edit your question to add commentary.
    – CDJB
    May 20, 2021 at 7:53

13 Answers 13


The easy answer is the same reason that any language has a word: it serves a useful function. English had a lot of words for rain because it rains a lot in England, and the words used differentiate between various types of rain because there is a useful distinction to make.

Antisemitism gets it own word because, for historical and cultural reasons, there is value in differentiating it from racism in general (and also why racism is a specific word identifying a particular subset of bigotry).

The historical context of WWII and the holocaust is one obvious reason: the Nazi's systematic murder of Jews on an industrial scale is important in recent history. And antisemitism in the 20th century is specifically tied to Nazi ideology (and consequential fascism) in a way that other forms of racism aren't.

Pre WWII antisemitism was also different to racism in general. Limiting this to the UK and America (since we are taking about the English language) a lot of racism was about viewing dark skinned people as fundamentally inferior, which shows up in colonialism and slavery to say the least. Antisemitism of the period didn't view the Jews in the same semi-evolved subhuman terms that characterized more general racism. It had more in common with conspiracy theories, about Jews controlling all the money and being cunning, devious sneaks secretly running things. And not being trustworthy.

Basically there is almost no overlap between the phenomenon of 19th century antisemitism (Jews are sneaky, rich and run the world to exploit everyone else) and 19th century attitudes towards black slaves (essentially dumb animals to be exploited and used). They have different immediate motivations and consequences, so of course they have different words.

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    While interesting, that historical approach barely scrape the surface of it... and in particular ignore older history. Sep 4, 2018 at 8:09
  • I can only repeat the comment here that I hve made under @Tom's answer above.
    – WS2
    Mar 12 at 8:58

Beyond the fact that it's useful to have more specific terms, and the fact that the term 'antisemite' predates the term 'racist' (although not the actual practical behaviour), the fact is that Anti-Semitism historically was not purely racism in terms of the conventional understanding of "these races are inferior" There is a strong history of hatred of Jews for religious reasons, which can be seen in the conflict with Hellenism. Christianity also led to hatred due to the rejection of their new version of Judaism, and this is true to a lesser extent of Islam. This type of anti-Semitism does not fit nicely into the "racist" bucket, even if it leads to it

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    Care to expand on "the conflict with Hellenism"? First hit in google on that is something about religious music. Is that what you meant? Sep 2, 2018 at 22:54
  • @Fizz the material centred near-mandatory polytheism of Hellenic culture vs the monotheism of Judaism led to many conflicts between the groups, noticeably playing a key part in the revolt of the Maccabees.
    – user19831
    Sep 3, 2018 at 8:09
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    What lead you to say that antisemitism predate racism, as words? Sep 4, 2018 at 8:16
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    @bilbo_pingouin "From the German Antisemitismus, which was coined in 1879 " en.wiktionary.org/wiki/anti-Semitism#Etymology "An entry in the Oxford English Dictionary (2008) simply defines racialism as "An earlier term than racism, but now largely superseded by it," and cites it in a 1902 quote.[12] The revised Oxford English Dictionary cites the shortened term "racism" in a quote from the following year, 1903.[13][14]" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism#Etymology,_definition_and_usage Of course with such a short timeframe ~ 20 years its possible that there were earlier usages.
    – user19831
    Sep 4, 2018 at 8:19
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    @Orangesandlemons well using google ngram, I find occurences of racisme and antisémitisme as early as 1623 in the French corpus. Due to their similarities, I would consider a common ancestor to both English and French words. Please note that in English, google already find occurences for racism in 1724, and antisemitism in 1855. Both pre-date your chronology. But apart from occurences of words, see also: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valladolid_debate or en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pogrom. Sep 4, 2018 at 8:42

Many ethnic and religious groups have a unique term used to describe prejudice, discrimination and hatred toward them. These have developed over time because they are more descriptive than simply using the blanket term "racist".

Here are some examples:

  • Hatred/fear of Irish people: Hibernophobia
  • Hatred/fear of adherents of Islam: Islamophobia
  • Hatred/fear of Roma: Anti-Zaganism/Anti-Romanyism
  • Hateed/fear of gay people: Homophobia
  • Hatred/fear of Arabs: Anti-Arabism
  • Hatred/fear of Mormons: Anti-Mormonism
  • Hatred/fear of Germans: Germanophobia
  • etc etc

The list is long. Anti-Semitism is simply one among many. It is not different than racism. It is in fact a subset of racism and special in its own unique way, as all (or at least most) forms of racism are.

While there does exist some racists who hate everyone not like themselves, most racists are selective in their dislike of certain groups. For example, a person might not mind Irish or Slavic people, but hates all Black people. So it is natural that language has evolved to quickly describe the specific forms of racism so it can be conveyed efficiently.

Regarding the term anti-semitism itself; it is indeed an outdated term, coined in Europe at a time when the only significant population of semites around we Jews. See this note from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism:

Antisemitism as a word quickly won acceptance in wider circles, even among those said to oppose anti-Jewish propaganda. The term is still used today, both in research and in everyday speech, as the designation of hostility against Jews. Attempts to use alternative designations have not met with success. When one uses the word antisemitism, it is important to be aware that it is misleading: antisemitism is a nonsense term in the sense that there is not and never has been any ”semitism” with respect to which one can be ”anti”. Antisemitism means and has only ever meant prejudice and hostility against Jews. It does not have and has never had anything to do with hostility against individuals and groups who speak Semitic languages. Thus it is also quite feasible for individuals who speak Semitic languages ​​to harbour antisemitic views.


The distinction is well explained by the former Chief Rabbi of Britain, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. See the full post here. Essentially he says while regular racism/xenophobia is a fear dislike of the other simply for being different and/or seemingly inferior, anti-semitism is a unique kind of hatred that mutates to satisfy the standards of the day. To illustrate, he points out the array of simultaneous contradictory attacks on Jews (they are too rich/too poor, too capitalist/too communist, too Islamophobic/promoting Islam, etc). These types of attacks are truly unique to Jews as a group.


But what is antisemitism and why should its return be cause for grave concern, not only for Jews but for all of us?

Historically, antisemitism has been hard to define, because it expresses itself in such contradictory ways. Before the Holocaust, Jews were hated because they were poor and because they were rich; because they were communists and because they were capitalists; because they kept to themselves and because they infiltrated everywhere; because they clung to ancient religious beliefs and because they were rootless cosmopolitans who believed nothing.

So what is antisemitism? Let’s be clear – not liking people because they’re different isn’t antisemitism. It’s xenophobia. Criticizing Israel isn’t antisemitism: it’s part of the democratic process, and Israel is a democracy.

Antisemitism is something much more dangerous – it means persecuting Jews and denying them the right to exist collectively as Jews with the same rights as everyone else.

It’s a prejudice that like a virus, has survived over time by mutating.

So in the Middle Ages, Jews were persecuted because of their religion.

In the 19th and 20th centuries they were reviled because of their race.

Today, Jews are attacked because of the existence of their nation state, Israel. Denying Israel’s right to exist is the new antisemitism.

And just as antisemitism has mutated, so has its legitimization. Each time, as the persecution descended into barbarity, the persecutors reached for the highest form of justification available.

In the Middle Ages, it was religion.

In post-Enlightenment Europe it was science: the so called scientific study of race.

Today it is human rights.

Whenever you hear human rights invoked to deny Israel’s right to exist, you are hearing the new antisemitism.

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    Sacks is incorrect, because it is common for bigotry to set up double-binds/catch-22s and this is by no means unique to anti-Semitism. Nor is the shifting justifications of it. The anti-suffragists and MRAs make different arguments for the same prejudice; same for modern racists and racists from the c19th.
    – Guy F-W
    Sep 3, 2018 at 19:32
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    Conflating antizionism and antisemitism is dangerous, since it tends to have a follow on effect of associating being critical of the Israeli government with antisemitism. I understand that the two occur more frequently together than separately. I also understand being skeptical of people who are critical of everything the Israelis do. I still think it is valuable to make the distinction, since it promotes compromise and cooperation. Sep 4, 2018 at 8:29
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    @CodyBugstein After over two millennia since Jews left (or were driven out of) the land they originally came from, then yes, it's fair to question it, otherwise we start talking about Germany making reparations to Italy for the acts of the Visigoths in sacking Rome. if the land was unoccupied, then sure, no worries. But when newcomers dispossess Palestinians whose families have farmed the same site for hundreds of years, at the point of a gun, where does the right to do that come from? I guess you own a house. Would the previous owner have right to come back with a gun and kick you out?
    – Graham
    Sep 4, 2018 at 12:02
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    @Graham Even after the Romans conquered Judea there remained a significant Jewish population in the land for years, even through Arab and Ottoman rule. The Jews who immigrated as part of the large scale immigration in the 1800s-1900s did not take anyone's farmland at gun point. Those are common libels. In fact they invested massively into turning infertile land into farmland and built cities from scratch. The Arabs launched the current conflict when Israel declared independence. Ask yourself; if Israel is so keen on kicking out Arabs at gunpoint, why are there 2 million Arab Israelis? Sep 4, 2018 at 13:12
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    Also I suggest you submit a new question on the topic we are discussing in the comments. The OP asked if racism and anti-semitism are different. This doesn't really relate to a discussion of Israeli history. I suggest you ask a question along the lines of "What legal and moral arguments do the Jews have to a state in Palestine? " Sep 4, 2018 at 13:13

Anti-Semitism is the subset of racism that attacks Jewish people. I believe there are two main reasons why it continues to be a distinct sub-topic:

First, anti-Semitism came to particular prominence during WWII with the attempted genocide by Hitler. The enormity of this crime has made it a sore point ever since.

Second, anti-Semitic propaganda has always had a different character than other forms of racism.

Most racist propaganda claims that its targets are intellectually and morally inferior, and hence present a danger due to their stupidity and propensity to sexual and violent crime. Donald Trump's tweets about Mexicans are typical of this genre.

However anti-Semitic propaganda has instead emphasised the alleged intelligence and self-control of Jews in their supposed goal of taking over society and subjugating everyone else; the fabricated Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are filled with clever and diabolical schemes to disrupt society and gain power. This distinct character of anti-Semitism means that it has to be considered separately.


The answer is somewhat complicated, partly because there are often more similarities than differences, and partly because there are two competing ideologies that have extremely different views of what constitutes both anti-Semitism and what constitutes racism.

In short, there is a progressive view, which views everything through group identity, power, social outcomes, and feelings. There is also a - let's call it classical liberal for lack of a better term - view, which views everything through individual identity and actions.

I may cover the differences later on, but the bulk of this answer comes from the latter ideological view - mostly because I'm sure there are people who will extensively cover the former view anyway, framing it as the only correct view. I will post a "[P]" progressive reference on statements that I know for sure contradict progressive ideology.

From a classical liberal view, the main differences are as follows:

  1. Anti-Semitism is about negativity towards the Jews, in general. This is different in that "Jewishness" is a very vague quality societally; and may refer to one - or a combination of any of - ethnic origins, nationality, religion, or culture, and in latter part of 20th century, also mixed in with Israel/Zionism; as well as perceived position and influence in society.

    Racism is often - though not always - is purely about ethnic origins, sometimes about culture but only as entwined with said ethnic origins.

  2. Almost universally, Anti-Semitism is invariably mixed with Jews' perceived (and, some individual Jews actual) high position in society.

    General racism and xenophobia is almost always uni-directional power-wise. You either dislike another race because they are universally weaker, or universally stronger [P] (that is not always the case in general world, but enough of a dominant trend as to be worth noting).

    While there exists some basic garden variety xenophobia against Jews as "others" that is 100% same as any other "others" (e.g. in early US history, Jews and Irish suffered from same kinds of prejudices - differently-religioned poor immigrants that both were); Anti-Semitism is unique in that that it co-exists with dislike of Jews as "powerful", usually explained via a certain small minority of "Jews" who are actually in some positions of power and thus an easy target.

    This usually takes the form of "Jews control the media/ finance / governments". Ironically, it split into contradictory strains of "Jews control capitalism due to finance" and "Jews control socialism"; applicable depending on whether one's general ideological flag flies.

  3. Anti-Semitism is very often cultural in its transmission.

    As a great example, look at the following scenarios:

    • Axis powers. Nazis were heavily anti-Semitic (duh), in very large part owing to Martin Luther's influence and earlier general European Christianity-influenced attitudes towards Jews; as well as later streams of anti-capitalist Anti-Semitism layer. At the same time, Imperial Japan - which was extremely xenophobic and racist in general - had virtually no Anti-Semitism, due to never having acquired that cultural trait historically.

    • Islamic countries generally tended to be less hostile towards the Jews in the Middle ages, especially as contrasted with Europe (or contrasted with their attitude towards Christians).

      This changed once Arab world got ideologically and culturally changed by introduction of socialism and Arab nationalism at the turn of 20th century and on; and especially once Israel was established. As an interesting illustration, formally, Iran is - at least on paper - friendly towards their own, Iranian, Jews, while being extremely Anti-Semitic towards Jews worldwide, especially in Israel, since 1980s.

  4. There is very little, or no, racist equivalent to hatred of Israel.

    Typically, racism is about xenophobia towards "others" in your midst. Most racists don't much care about people in other countries inasmuch as they don't travel to or live in their country (one historical caveat to this is imperialist type expansion, for example Japanese racism towards Koreans and Chinese informing their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere plans; or European colonial past. But, presumably, the question and thus the answer are more geared towards 21st century).

    In contrast, Anti-Semitic attitudes extend towards dislike of Jews even when they are elsewhere, not affecting the disliker - namely in the state of Israel.

    In large part, this has to do with the "new Anti-Semitism" of the Left [P], where Jews are explicitly disliked for their "power"/"oppressor" position; or anti-Semitic attitudes are just casually/culturally picked up from the ideological allies who are often originating in Arab/Moslem communities, but not exclusively so (and here).

  • 6
    Good answer, until the last two points. There is a problem with the state of Israel in the way it treats Palestinian Arabs. In many respects, how they are treated is how Jews were treated in 1930s Nazi-run Europe. Arbitrary killings, dispossession, the creation of ghettos, a supposed divine right to territory - all present and correct. This is clearly a human rights catastrophe. However these are the actions of the Israeli state, and not the actions of the Jewish people or the Jewish religion, so it is erroneous to describe the Left as "anti-Semitic" when they criticise this.
    – Graham
    Sep 3, 2018 at 12:16
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    The problem with equating the concerns about Israeli policy by 'the left' with antisemitism, and then equating antisemitism with racism should be obvious. This site is supposed to be about neutral, fact based q&a. Yet every time the subject of antisemitism is raised, this 'talking point' is hammered down relentlessly. There is a lot to be said about the history and policies of 'the left', but calling mainstream modern day 'leftists' like the UK's labour party racists or anti-semitic only erodes the meaning of both terms.
    – Douwe
    Sep 3, 2018 at 13:32
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    @Graham To criticize the policies of the Israeli government with respect to the occupation is perfectly legitimate. To compare it to 1930s Nazi Germany is borderline antisemitic if not anti-semitic outright. The occupation of the West Bank (Samaria and Judea) has absolutely nothing to do with racism. It is about politics and security. It started during the Six Day War in 1967, in which Israel was nearly completely destroyed. In the aftermath, Israel could not simply give back these strategic highlands to people still sworn to its destruction. This is an issue yet to be resolved Sep 4, 2018 at 15:24
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    @Graham the claims made in your comment are completely false. There is no evidence of farmers being forced off their land at gun point. In a country where there are more photo-journalists than soldiers (if you've ever seen footage of the Israeli military in action you will see dozens of photographers trailing them) it would be easy to verify that your claims are true. They are not though. These are the types of claims spread by anti-semites, i.e. people who actually hate Jews, not people simply criticizing a government policy Sep 5, 2018 at 15:13
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    @Graham You should read some history about how the Israelis came in control of Judea of Samaria and what the legal claims are on both sides. The fact that most of the world calls it "illegal" when Jews live in these areas (not Muslims, Druze, or Christians, only Jews) has nothing to do with the actually legal arguments but everything to do with relations to the Arab/Muslim world and their massive oil reserves. Sep 6, 2018 at 13:09

They are not the same!

I see that in some regions the terms are used as synonyms. That is not the case where I live. In Germany.

Antisemitism and racism have some overlap in the ideology of the nazis. They were against a "Jewish race". That makes some sense as not all, but a large proportion of Jews are of a common - not exactly race I think; but near enough.

Racism is about race.
Antisemitism is about religion!

Racism is often the rejection of most other races, in particular those who can be identified by a different skin color.

Antisemitism is the rejection of Jews. They are a group that follows a particular religion, the Judaism. Jews are of any race whatsoever. Because people are not asked about the race when they want to convert to Judaism. They are thoroughly tested if they indeed changed their faith. That can happen if a couple marries, where only one partner is Jewish.

So a Jew who you meet may be of very light skin and born in Norway, or of very dark skin and born in Nigeria.

For a racist, they are very different. He may admire one Jew, and disdain the other Jew.

An anti-Semitic person may disdain both Jews in the same way.

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    Jews are an ethno-religious group, so antisemitism is by no means restricted to religious objections. The most prominent example would be the nazis, who wanted to exterminate all those they saw as racially Jewish (including eg Jews who converted to Christianity). It can also be seen with modern-day antisemites (see eg any random list of "Jews who control the media", which always contain non-religious Jews (and gentiles, because these lists are never accurate)). I agree though that Jews can be of any race, and that racism and antisemitism are not synonyms.
    – tim
    Sep 4, 2018 at 9:35
  • @tim I think that point of "racially Jewish" would rather be "racially Semitic". I think Semites are not clearly a race, but at least "something similar". Sep 4, 2018 at 9:44
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    @VolkerSiegel Pretty much all definitions of a particular race are motivated by the desire to divide "us" and "them", and spending any time thinking about the "correct" definition is just lending validity to those ideas. The only relevant question should be whether Nazi ideology claimed there was a "Jewish race"; it probably goes without saying that others don't agree with their definition.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 4, 2018 at 10:05
  • @tim Thanks for your interesting comment. In German schooI I learned a lot about Hitlers and the nazis anti-Semitism. It was by far the biggest topic in history class. But this question never came up. So I'm pretty sure the nazis basically used Judaism as a proxy for Semitism - and later did not care about that anyway. Sep 4, 2018 at 10:08
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    @tim Turns out the nazis explicitly used the term "Jewish race", and directly cared about grades of kinship. Sep 4, 2018 at 10:17

Antisemitism is distinct from racism, there are traits of antisemitism that don't show up in other racisms. I think the IHRA working definition of antisemitism is helpful. I'll go through the bullet points of the definition one by one, trying to point out if they are an elemnt also present in racism

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

This is not specific to antismitism

  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, 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.

The imagined "power of Jews as a whole" is one thing that strongly sets antisemitism apart from racism. While you will find comparable conspiracy theories in some racism (e.g. creeping sharia), never with such a reach as in antisemitism

  • 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.

If people are perceived as a group, any wrongdoing by one member will be perceived as a wrongdoing by that whole group - unless the group is white people in a western country. So far this does not set antisemitism apart from racism. But it is mostly unique to antisemitism that Jews are blamed for attacks commited by others (9.11 (scroll down for examples of conspiracy theories blaming the Mossad), "Judeo-bolshevism" in the anguage of the Nazis)

  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. 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).

Denialism of mass violence is, sadly, not unique.

  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

I honestly dont know if this is unique. One could look at Turkeys denial of the Genocide of the Armenians and see if the accuse anyone of making it p or exxegarting claims.

  • 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.

You could probably find that in many racisms against immigrants and in antimuslim racism*.

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

There's a bookshelves of discussion in that sentence. I believe that most critics of the state of Israel are not principled anarchists that want to abolish all states and also assume that a people, however defined, should govern itself. So it seems strange to single out Israel.

  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

I wouldnt even know how an equivalent in another racism would look like.

  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

An equivalent would be using colonial images to characterize modern, post-colonial state. Which probably does happen.

  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Again, there's no equivalent in other racisms.

  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

I think similar things go on in antimuslim racism, though no direct equivalent.

So we can show that antisemitism, has a distinct history and shows traits distinct of other racism. This justifies the separate terminology.

'* "But islam is no race!" well, race doesnt work the way racists think it does anyway.

  • This "definition" contains elements with which one could not possibly disagree - such as the first one quoted. But much of it I sense is there at the behest of the Israeli government - such as the part which prohibits the "claiming of that state as a racist endeavour". Many perfectly fair-minded and reasonable people, including many Jews both inside Israel and in countries like Britain and the United States, cannot see any other way of regarding iIsrael other than as a racist endeavour.
    – WS2
    Mar 9 at 9:53

The idea of Jews as a distinct race was notably propagated by the Nazis as part of their racist ideology, leading to the Holocaust. But while Jewish identity can be seen through they ethnicity and culture, they are not a race. There are only five commonly recognized races (Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid, Australoid and Native American), so it may be misleading to apply the term "racism" .

Germans, Jews and Palestinians all belong to the same Caucasoid race.

  • That's not scientifically accurate. As far as I know, Native Americans are mongoloid, and Black Africans may be divided into at least two distinct races as they have great amount of genetic diversity there.
    – alamar
    Mar 8 at 12:24
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    During the 19th century, diverging opinions were pronounced whether Native Americans should be included in the grouping which was sometimes called "Mongolian" and sometimes "Mongoloid" but this is generally disputable. The main point of the answer, there are not so many races in the world and Jews are unlikely a race.
    – Stančikas
    Mar 8 at 12:28

Anti-Semitism has diverged from its original meaning and developed its own.

Semites or semitic people, are defined by language, culture and region. They encompass Israelites, Mandeans, Samaritans, Assyrians, and others. Or, in modern terms: Both Jews and Arabs as well as several minorities are Semites.

Anti-Semitism has evolved to mean hatred of Jews, specifically. This way, you can have something like anti-semitism among arabs (who are themselves semitic people).

In this context, anti-semitism has nothing to do with race, as the differentiating criterium is not race, but religion. There is a connection between the two as you are a Jew by birth if your mother is jewish, but we live in an age where people can change their religion, so religious and racial membership are no longer identical.

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    "Anti-Semitism has evolved to mean hatred of Jews" technically it was coined to mean that specifically. Why that was is much a product of the time and place of the person who coined it
    – user19831
    Sep 4, 2018 at 15:52
  • @user19831 The circumstances in which anti-Semitism" was coined are quite different to those in which it is used today. In the 1930s Jews, in western countries were an oppressed people. But some use the term now to depict resistance by Palestinians to an elite and exclusive Israeli overlordship - carrying an implication of Nazi tyranny - which is not what is happening . I am not anti-Jewish. I love the Jews who engage enthusiastically in British national life - in Parliament and elsewhere. But I am utterly appalled by the way that Palestinians are excluded in their own country.
    – WS2
    Mar 9 at 22:21

The difference is simply that "racism" refers to a general phenomenon without reference to any one particular group, whereas the common usage of "anti-Semitism" refers to one specific group.

So it is possible for a white group to be "racist" to a black group, and also for the black group to be "racist" to the white group. But while another group can be "anti-Semitic" to a Jewish group, the Jewish group cannot be "anti-Semitic" back. (although this hasn't stopped some people from trying to invent terms like "self-hating Jew" to get around this).

Linguistically, this is convenient for people who use the word "anti-Semitism" because it lets them make other derivative words, such as "anti-Semite" which can be used to label people. Labels carry psychological power.

In contrast, there are no similar labels that one can use to label people who are anti-black ("anti-blackist"?), anti-Hispanic, anti-Arab, etc. The generic label "racist" doesn't help much here because it is not specific enough to get at what someone may want to convey.


I know there are already quite a few answers, but I simply can't fully agree with any so far.

Your question can quite simply be answered by the etymology of both words.

Racism comes from race, a pseudo-scientific view that Humans could be split into separate groups with common genetic inheritance. It often leads to the belief that some races are better or superior than others. Like a doberman would be stronger in a fight than a chihuahua. It has lead to the use of wrong-scientific approaches to explain the perceived dominance of Europe/European over the rest of the worlds (perceived lower races).

Antisemitism is an opposition (anti) to the Jews (semitic religion). Antisemtists discriminate against Jews due to a perceived usage of religion, or attributes given to the Jews as a population.

The racism discriminates against the genetic inheritance, whereas anti-semistists discriminate against a religious group.

Your confusion may come from a general incorrect usage of words (see Nazi to equates dictatorship/tyranny), where racism is often used as an umbrella word for discrimination against any group of people. Or due to the fact that the mechanisms are quite similar, in the same way that cynophobia (fear of dogs) and ailurophobia (fear of cats) are similar yet different. But also maybe an often perceived idea that Jews tend to stay in an homogeneous group, without mixing with other people. Which would lead to a common genetic inheritance, and thus making a "Jew race". But one should remember, you can convert to Judaism, but can't convert from an European-ethny to Chinese one.


Start with the general principle of xenophobia: fear and/or hatred of people or groups considered 'foreign' or 'strange'.

  • antisemitism is xenophobia directed at ethnic, cultural, or religious Jews. It has a millennia-long history in the West based in both religious sentiment (Christians perceive Jews as those who rejected Christ and called for his execution), and in the peculiar economic position of Jews in the West through that time (Jews as money-lenders, because per doctrine Christians could not lend to other Christians at interest)
  • racism is xenophobia directed at particular racial or ethnic groups, particularly blacks. Racism its current form during the Colonial era, when white economic adventurers from European nations found it expedient to classify humans into separate racial categories for the purposes of resource expropriation, native labor forces, and social hierarchies.

The two can overlap: for instance the antisemitism under the Nazi regime was primarily a form of racism, without much cultural or religious prejudice. And in fact, xenophobia can take form against any group, often without a specific name, e.g., the fear and hatred of Muslims found across the US, which lacks a proper category.

  • "doctrine"? Wouldn't "dogma" be more accurate? Or is that automatically too negative in the modern world? Technically I think it's the most accurate word here. Feb 4 at 7:57
  • 1
    Fear and hatred of Muslims has a name: "Islamophobia"
    – Ben Cohen
    Feb 4 at 13:16
  • @political_noob: 'Islamophobia' is a neologism adopted sometime in the early '00s, and it hasn't caught on all that well. I mean, I see your point, but do you see mine? Feb 4 at 16:14
  • @RadicallyReasonable: 'Doctrine' and 'dogma' are essentially equivalent, except that in modern usage the former the former connotes the formal legalisms of a faith while the latter has the pejorative sense of fanaticism. Doctrine is more appropriate in this context. Feb 4 at 16:18
  • "Doctrine" is more widely used in other contexts. I am more used hearing about a "military doctrine" or a "political doctrine". "Dogma" is only used in connection to religion. But I agree that its usage has probably become more pejorative than descriptive. Feb 4 at 19:33

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