Antisemitism and the Flemish Mask

Image: Harrison Haines


The Palestinianization of Global Social Movements

For Milton Temer, source of inspiration in our struggles against Flanders masks.

Disputes over the meanings given to anti-Semitism have once again occupied global debates in recent months. The text of the IHRA (International Alliance for the Remembrance of the Holocaust), which proposes a set of indicators to identify an anti-Semitic discourse, was the trigger of this new global phase of criminalization of Palestinians who are in diaspora and of activists of the Palestinian cause .

As a reaction to this text, Jewish people from several countries launched a manifesto (Jerusalem Manifesto - MJ) aiming to offer definitions and indicators to identify anti-Semitic actions (whether linguistic and/or physical) and, at the same time, to present themselves as an alternative proposal to the IHRA text.

A third text, also signed by collectives of Jewish people committed to social justice, will point out the limitations of the two texts, while recognizing certain advances in the MJ. The three texts move around questions such as: are the denunciations of the oppressive policies of the State of Israel against the Palestinian people indicators of anti-Semitism? Is it possible to articulate the struggle to dismantle anti-Semitism with other expressions of white supremacy (Islamophobia and racism, for example)? How to recognize the Palestinian people's right to indignation without committing a hate crime against Jewish people? What is the relationship between Zionism/State of Israel/Anti-Semitism?

The content of the three texts[I] point us to the fissures and internal divergences within what is mistakenly thought of as a “Jewish community”, as if “being a Jew” were an amalgamation, a homogeneous whole. I tend to believe that the very notion of “Jewish community” is an act of erasing internal differences and a type of mental operation, with disastrous political effects, which is based on erasing differences and, simultaneously, on the essentialization of identities.

This invisibilization is close to what Edward Said pointed out as one of the characteristics of Orientalism.[ii]. The West invented an Orient in which it would be enough to know one Arab to know all Arabs. I believe, however, that this mark (transforming the other into a species) is one of the reiterated contents of colonialism and not something unique to the West's relationship with the East. In addition to the divergences and approximations between the three texts, as I will point out, the internal disputes of Jewishness, made public in a global dimension, can be interpreted as possibilities for us to intensify the construction of alliances and advance in a global agenda in defense of the self-determination of the people Palestinian.

International Alliance for Holocaust Remembrance (IHRA)

The practical definition of antisemitism proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)[iii] was adopted by dozens of countries and has as its central axis the link between anti-Semitism and the State of Israel, that is, between Zionism & the State of Israel. Of the 10 definitions in this practical guide to identify anti-Semitic actions, six (06) of them are directly linked to criticism of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism.

One of the points reads: "It is anti-Semitism to deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination by claiming, for example, that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist enterprise." Research such as that of Israeli historian Ilan Pappé who, working with primary sources in the archives of the Israeli Armed Forces, presents abundant official documentation to support his claim that Israel is the result of Palestinian ethnic cleansing (the expulsion of almost 800 Palestinians from their homes and lands and dozens of massacres), would be immediately branded as anti-Semitic.

Political divergences with the Zionist project come to be read as expressions of anti-Jewish hatred and the State of Israel becomes the total expression of Jewishness. What are the impacts of using the IHRA definition? the canadian activist John Clarke[iv]states that, in the US, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an entity recognized for its voracious persecution of all those who defend the human rights of the Palestinian people, conducted a study, in 2019, in which it found evidence of 2.107 incidents considered to be anti-Semitic. In the same year, B'nai Brith reported 2.207 anti-Semitic incidents in Canada. This is a surprising result, as the US has a population nine times that of Canada and has 17 times as many Jewish people. The study from Canada used the IHRA definition. Activities organized by activists of the Palestinian cause against the oppressive policies of the State of Israel were all considered anti-Semitic.

My hypothesis is that, if there are immediate adhesions to the IHRA text, mainly from sectors, parties and states identified with the right or extreme right, there are unexpected effects that put the purposes of the text in check. B'Tselem, Israel's largest human rights organization, has finally recognized what Palestinians have been denouncing for decades: in Israel, apartheid prevails against Palestinians. Israel promotes and perpetuates Jewish supremacy from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. That was the final conclusion of the organization's report. Pursuant to the article of nasim ahmed[v], if we say that the existence of Israel is a racist and colonial enterprise, we will be treated as anti-Semites. We asked the IHRA: “Will B'Tselem become an anti-Semitic entity?”. The crossroads created by the IHRA text for Jewish people are exposed.

For B'Tselem, after another 50 years, the regime and its occupation must be treated as a single entity. Its guidelines are determined by racist grounds to expand and ensure the supremacy of one collective (the Jews) to the detriment of the other (the Palestinians). Examples of segregationist policies towards Palestinian-Israelis abound: Palestinian citizens are tried in military courts in Israel; 99,76% of the land is dedicated to exclusively Jewish settlements; there are administrative arrests of Palestinian children (tried in military courts); Israelis move freely between Israel and illegal settlements in the West Bank, which is forbidden to Palestinians; the Knesset (Israeli parliament) regularly passes laws that are exclusively for the occupied West Bank; the Palestinian flag is prohibited from flying.

As Thrall points out, “Israeli absorption of the West Bank is a concerted effort by all branches of government – ​​legislative, executive and judiciary”. The continued policy of cleaning up the Palestinian presence is not a policy of extreme right-wing governments, as we hear so often from “Left Zionists”. Rather, it is a continuous policy that extends over time and in all the constitutive spheres of the State (legislative, executive and judiciary).

nasim ahmed wonders what is the point of continuing to use the IHRN definitions after the B'Tselem report. I believe, however, that the IHRN had as its central objective to become an instrument of control to the criticism of the State of Israel in the global sphere. Internally, the fundamental trope of the State of Israel's rhetoric to justify its criminal actions is "terrorist". Anti-Semites are Palestinians who are in the diaspora and terrorists are those who still insist on resisting and remaining in their homes, on Palestinian soil. From a stone hurled at soldiers to Hamas resistance, everything falls under the rubric of “Palestinian terrorism”. The only right of the Palestinian people is not to have the right to resistance. The crossroads remain: how will IHRN qualify B'Tselem's positions?

It is considered anti-Semitism “To make comparisons between contemporary Israeli policy and that of the Nazis” (IHRN). Again: What will IHRN do with Israeli Jews who systematically say “'We are Nazi'?”[vi]. Here there is no comparison, but an identity statement.

Globally, the persecution is not restricted to Palestinians in the diaspora, but to all who dare to bring the crimes of the State of Israel into the public space. Let's not be naïve, the adoption of the IRHN guide has dire effects on brainstorming and freedom of expression. We have become, by virtue of the insults hurled at us, Palestinians. The global Palestinianization lies in the criminalization of everyone who dares to say: the State of Israel systematically commits crimes against humanity.

As I write this essay, a political lynching campaign is taking place in Chile against presidential candidate Daniel Jadue, a Communist Party militant. He is recognized for defending the Palestinian cause and human rights. Zionists rallied to the right to accuse him of being anti-Semitic. Although they never deny the allegations made against crimes against humanity committed by Israel, they try to silence it with the accusation of anti-Semitism. As pointed out by Marcela Parra[vii]. Destroying Daniel Jadue's image is the right's strategy and Zionism takes advantage of this media campaign to squash the denunciations and make it clear that criticizing the human rights violations committed by Israel is prohibited and anyone who dares to do so will be destroyed. It is a message of fear for politicians, communicators and opinion leaders.

The IHRA text is a kind of mask of tin to prevent us from denouncing Israel's crimes and the fight for justice for the Palestinian people. This instrument of torture was widely used by slaveholders to prevent enslaved people from using their mouths.[viii].

Jerusalem Manifesto (MJ)

To oppose the IHRA definition, Jewish/Jewish activists and intellectuals, gathered by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, launched, in March of that year, a Letter-Manifesto[ix], or Jerusalem Manifesto (MJ).

The Preamble reads: “We propose our declaration as an alternative to the IHRA definition. The objectives are (1) to strengthen the fight against anti-Semitism, clarifying what it is and how it manifests itself, (2) to protect a space for an open debate on the problematic question of the future of Israel/Palestine”.

Among examples of understandable hostility to Israel, the statement cites "the emotion a Palestinian feels on account of his experience at the hands of the state." “Emotion” is a subjective feeling. If a Palestinian woman feels hatred because her mother was murdered by Israel, it's understandable to be overcome with that affection, in terms of the GM. By moving to the scope of individual pain and the resulting subjective elaborations, it seems that the Manifesto empties the political content, depoliticizing the organized fury of the Palestinian people against the actions of Israeli colonialism and apartheid.

I ask: If we consider that in almost all Palestinian families there are members arrested, dead or in refugee camps, is it not legitimate to recognize the right of these people to denounce to the world that ethnic cleansing is part of the DNA of the State of Israel? Is it not legitimate for these people to organize resistance and self-defense tactics?

The manifesto defines anti-Semitism as "discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jews)". Here we have a problem of another order: What Jewish institutions? Israel is the State of the Jewish people, under the Basic Law passed in August 2018 by the Israeli parliament (Knesset)[X]. If the State of Israel is a political entity – an institution – legally defined as being of the Jewish people, what does it mean to exclude 23% of Palestinian-Israelis from this fundamental political category for modern states (ie, from the citizenship category)? A Human Right Watch (HRW)[xi], in its report, like B'Tsalem, qualifies and defines Israel's policies for the apartheid Palestinian-Israeli population.

The MJ says, "Likewise, portraying Israel as the ultimate evil or grossly exaggerating its actual influence can be a coded way to racialize and stigmatize Jews." So, if we denounce the mainstream press' commitment to the genocide of the Palestinian population, are we being anti-Semitic? What is the "ultimate evil"? For families who had their homes destroyed, who witnessed and lived through massacres and rapes[xii], had their land stolen and were turned overnight into “refugees”[xiii], surely, for these subjects, there would be another expression to name the State of Israel that is not “supreme evil”?

But if they, condemned of the earth, dare to refer to the State of Israel as the evil of its olive trees, date palms, of the insepulcher son, of the aimless life, will they be condemned for anti-Semitism? Would the opening of the process to investigate the massacres of Palestinians in Gaza, in 2014, by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, be an indicator that this Court is operating its decisions by anti-Semitic conceptions?

In the part referring to “Israel and Palestine: examples that are apparently anti-Semitic”, point eight says: “Requiring that people, because they are Jewish, publicly condemn Israel or Zionism (for example, in a political meeting)”.

The MJ does not advise us, anti-racist activists, how we should move and position ourselves in the face of the exclusive right granted by the State of Israel to Jewish people to “return” to Israel. This right potentially turns every Jewish person into a colonizer. In the book Aliyah: State and subjectivity among Brazilian Jews in Israel/Palestine [xiv], we approached the biographies of Jewish people, Brazilian Zionists, who decided to live in Israel. The self-declared political profile of respondents ranges from progressive to left. One does not need to be very versed in debates about Palestinian issues, Nakba, numbers, dates, maps, to, at the very least, be paralyzed by the scandalous absence of Palestinian existences in their narratives, even though they are living in lands and houses that don't belong to them. And they still dare to define themselves as “on the left”.

In terms of the MJ, we immediately turn into anti-Semites when we ask Jewish people if they see themselves as entitled to go and live in Palestine, or if we ask for a position on the policies of the State of Israel towards the Palestinian people. To what extent does a definition like this exempt Jewish people from their historical and contemporary responsibilities to the Palestinian Nakba? It would be the same as saying that a white person cannot be required, in the Brazilian context, to take a position on racism “just” because he is white. After all, what responsibility would she have with the almost 400 years of slavery in Brazil? And why would she have to take a stand and fight against racism if she was not directly responsible for the situation in which the black population lives?

This absence of ethical responsibility towards the historical conditions that precede and form us produces a break, a rupture between the white self and the situation of genocity (due to its historical continuity) of the black population in Brazil. We are asked to take a stand. And this interpellation is fundamental for the processes of reflexivity about the world we inhabit. It is not possible to make a disjunction between the public faith that white skin enjoys and the continuous denial of humanity of black people. The refusal to recognize the historical responsibility of a past that constitutes me in the world is, in itself, a mechanism to deny black people the right to reparation.

What MJ says is that Jewish people may (what a luxury!!) not want to take a stand on Israel's crimes[xv] or about the plight of the Palestinian people. In doing so, they try to control the public debate, a regulation and censorship mechanism that makes the two texts (IHRN and MJ) coincide in the desire to impose censorship and fear in the public sphere. So, be careful, don't ask the Jewish person how they stand because they might say: “You are anti-Semitic!!”. Once again, the Flanders mask surrounds us.

There are other problematic issues in the Jerusalem Manifesto. Point 10 claims to be anti-Semitism: "Denying the right of Jews in the State of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually, as Jews, in accordance with the principle of equality." But isn't that exactly what has been happening for the past 73 years? What the MJ omits is that the lives of the Jewish people are flourishing and their existence is due to the exclusion and death of the Palestinian people. Necropolitics (politics promoting death) and biopolitics (policies aimed at protecting life) are articulated in Israeli necrobiopolitics[xvi] and become inseparable terms. Death and apartheid for Palestinians, in the terms of the Report of the Human Right Watch and B'Tsalem. Care and life for the Jewish people in Israel.

Principles for Dismantling Anti-Semitism (PDA)

Once again, the two statements (IHRA and MJ) are equal in erasing Palestinian lives. This erasure was one of the central criticisms of the “Principles for Dismantling Anti-Semitism” statement.[xvii], proposed by three collectives of progressive Jewish people organized in Jewish Voice for Peace (USA), in Independent Jewish Voices (Canada) and in Boycott from Within (Israel). If the Jerusalem Manifesto talks about the relationship between Palestine/Israel/Anti-Semitism, where are the Palestinian voices?

The central concern that guided the publication of the PDA was the continued attempts by the State of Israel to avoid accountability for its human rights abuses and violations of international law, systematically using accusations of anti-Semitism against Palestinians and allies of the Palestinian cause. Distributing (globally) tinplate masks has been a policy of successive Israeli governments

In the PDA, there is a conception of the fight against anti-Semitism linked to other forms of mobilization against different expressions of white supremacy, in the relational spirit proposed by Franz Fanon[xviii]. The forms of struggle against existing racism, including anti-Semitism, “[are related[is] and reproduce[in] themselves in different ways according to their socio-spatial contexts in different periods of history” (PDA).

We found in the PDA text potent elements for building alliances between those who live a life made precarious by neoliberal barbarism and colonialism, at the same time that it offers us good conceptual tools (whether for Jewish or non-Jewish people) to unify ourselves against anti-Semitic violence. According to the text: “We believe in a world where we are all safe and loved – a world without racism, without anti-Semitism and without Islamophobia. As fascist, racist and authoritarian governments and political parties amass more and more power around the world, we are more committed than ever to the work of building a world where justice, equality and dignity are granted to all people, without exception.”

The declaration's five principles are: 1. Do not isolate anti-Semitism from other forms of oppression; 2. Challenge political ideologies that foster racism, hatred and fear; 3. Create environments that affirm and celebrate all cultural and religious expressions; 4. Promote the dismantling of all forms of racism and intolerance in daily policies and practices; 5. Practice safety through solidarity rather than the police.

If, on the one hand, the PDA points out that the IHRA definition is a weapon for the incessant production of persecution of those who engage in defense of the human rights of the Palestinian people, on the other hand, it analyzes that the MJ is entangled in the very terms of the definition that proposes for anti-Semitism, since it situates and restricts the debate, fundamentally, to the Israeli-Palestinian sphere, when the discussion should be broader (and relational).

It is interesting to observe how the Jewish collectives that built the PDA have the distinctive mark of being anti-Zionist and, precisely because of this differentiating mark in relation to the two other texts (IHRN and MJ), their members pay prices for their engagement in defense of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. Many are systematically persecuted for their positions and accused (even if they are Jewish) of being anti-Semitic. Among the most well-known names, the philosopher Judith Butler has a long path of confrontations with the accusations of Zionists that try to transform the defense of the State of Israel as a criterion to evaluate if a position can be transmuted into anti-Semitic insult.

One of the guiding threads of the philosopher's work has been to point out that nothing is more contrary to the ethical principles of Judaism than Zionism. What characterizes Jewish thought? Guide us to cohabit, to deal with the world outside ourselves. This was the fundamental lesson of the Jewish diaspora, in addition to the first mandate: THOU SHALL NOT KILL! Nothing is more contrary to Judaism, in the philosopher's terms, than an ideology that takes upon itself the death, expulsion, imprisonment of an entire people, as Zionism has done. Judaism would find its opposite, its negation, in Zionism. She says: “[If I can] show that there are Jewish resources for the critique of state violence, colonial subjugation of populations, expulsion and dispossession, I will have succeeded in showing that a Jewish critique of Israeli state violence is at least possible – and perhaps even ethically obligatory. If I show, further, that some Jewish values ​​of cohabitation with non-Jews are part of the very ethical substance of Diasporic Judaism, it will be possible to conclude that commitments to social equality and social justice have been a fundamental part of secular Jewish traditions, socialist and religious” (Judith Butler[xx], P. 11).

It is as if the theses of the book Divergent Paths had taken the form of a manifesto to dismantle anti-Semitism in a polyphony of other Jewishnesses, organized in other collectives. Fortunately, these formulations contribute considerably to our fight against all forms of discrimination, racism and colonialism.

to think about tomorrow

The global criminalization against human rights activists of the Palestinian people and the peaceful movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS)[xx] to Israel will intensify. Within the framework of this global war against the Palestinian people, the State of Israel will continue to try to transform anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as interchangeable terms. What is underway is the Palestinianization of global social movements. From the persecution of the candidate for the presidency of Chile to the criminalization of former federal deputy Milton Temer, we, human rights activists of the Palestinian cause, are being transformed into Palestinians. There is no other alternative: we will continue to tear off the masks of Flanders and build broad alliances with sectors that defend the right of colonized peoples to self-determination.

*Berenice Bento is a professor at the Department of Sociology at UnB.


[I] For a discussion of these three texts, see Bruno Huberman and Yuri Haasz: A Response by Progressive Jews to the IHRA's Definition of Anti-Semitism. Available at:

[ii] SAID, Edward. Orientalism. The East as the invention of the West. Rio de Janeiro: Companhia de Bolso, 2007.

[iii] To see the full text, go to:

[iv] CLARKE, John. Declaration of Jerusalem: A rebuttal against the use of anti-Semitism as a weapon. Available at:

[v] AHMED, Nasim. Israel is an apartheid state, says B'Tselem; Time to Dismiss IHRA's Definition of Anti-Semitism? Available at:

[vi] “Today we are Nazis,” says member of Israeli Jewish extremist group. Available in:

[vii] PARRA, Marcela. Strategic alliance between the Chilean right and Zionism: attacking candidate Daniel Jadue and stepping up to shield Israeli crimes. Available in:

[viii] On tinplate masks and other instruments of torture imposed on enslaved people, see: GOULART, José Alípio. From the paddle to the gallows. Rio de Janeiro: Conquest, 1971.

[ix] Text in full:

[X] For an analysis of this law, see: BENTO, Berenice; TENORIO, Sayid. Israeli 'nation-state': new stage of colonialist apartheid. Available at:

[xi] To access the full report, see:

[xii] On the rapes of Palestinian women and children by Israeli military forces in 1948, see Fatma Kassem's doctoral research, Palestinian Women: Narrative Histories and Gendered Memory. London Books: London & New York, 2011.

[xiii] There is considerable academic and journalistic material on crimes against humanity committed by Israel since its founding. We suggest: MISLEH, Soraya. Al Nakba: a study on the Palestinian catastrophe. São Paulo: Sundermann, 2017; PAPPÉ, Ilan. Palestine's ethnic cleansing. São Paulo: Editora Sundermann, 2016; PELED-ELHANAN, Nurit. Ideology and propaganda in education. Palestine in Israeli textbooks. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2019; SAYID, Marcos Tenorio. Palestine: from the myth of the promised land to the land of resistance. São Paulo: Anita Garibaldi, 2019; SAID, Edward. The question of Palestine. São Paulo: EDUNESP, 2012; MASALHA, Nur. Expulsion of Palestinians. The concept of 'transfer' in Zionist thought (1882-1948). So Paulo: Sundermann, 2021.

[xiv] VALE DE ALMEIDA, Miguel. Aliyah: State and subjectivity among Brazilian Jews in Israel/Palestine. Lisbon: ICS, 2019. 

[xv] On March 03, 2021, the International Criminal Court opened proceedings to investigate Israel's crimes. To follow the process, see:

[xvi] BENTO, Bernice. Necrobiopoder: Who can inhabit the nation-state? Available at:

[xvii] The English version of the statement can be read on the JVP website. In Portuguese, see:

[xviii] FANON, Franz. Black Skin, White Mask. Salvador: EDUFBA, 2015.

[xx] BUTLER, Judith. Divergent paths: Judaism and criticism of ZionismO. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2017.

[xx] On the global movement for the boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel, see:


See this link for all articles