At the end of last year, the uptick in antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents in the U.S. and around the globe captured headlines as part of the fallout from the Israel-Hamas war.
Reactions were swift and widespread, as university presidents resigned, demonstrators took to the streets in places such as Berlin and Paris and the White House promised to take steps to curb religious and faith-based hate in the U.S.
The topic of rising discrimination and incidents of hate remains contentious, as political polarization and debate over definitions challenge reporters covering the issues.
This edition of ReligionLink provides background, relevant stories, resources and expert sources to help you report on rising hate in a time of conflict, political tension and divided opinion.
There have been pronounced upticks in both antisemitic and anti-Muslim incidents since Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel’s subsequent invasion of Gaza.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents increased by 388% in the U.S. in the four weeks after the attack. And in a new report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization said it received a total of 1,283 requests for help and reports of bias between Oct. 7 and Nov. 4 — a 216% increase.
In a call with reporters, the FBI said it saw an increase in threats against both Jewish and Muslim communities. Although not providing specific numbers, FBI Director Christopher Wray told The New York Times that the agency feared further hate-based violence in the U.S., like that of the Oct. 14 fatal stabbing of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume at his Illinois home in what police said was an anti-Muslim hate crime.
Swelling statistics were also noted in Europe, with the United Kingdom and Germany both reporting increases in
antisemitic and Islamophobic hate. For example, the British organization Tell MAMA received a sevenfold increase
in reports since early October, and U.K. police documented a sharp rise in antisemitic hate crimes. Moreover, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue reported a 43-fold increase in anti-Muslim YouTube comments.
These reports do not capture the full extent of hate, with the targeting of individuals at work and school, assaults on sacred spaces (e.g., graffiti on mosque walls, eggs being thrown at local synagogues) as well as online abuse often going unreported.
Despite the worrying increases, antisemitism and Islamophobia have been simmering — and boiling over — for decades.
For example, in 2022, the Federal Association of Departments for Research and Information on Antisemitism in Germany documented 2,480 incidents. According to German police, that number was 2,032 in 2019, including a deadly synagogue attack in the eastern city of Halle. In 2010, there were 1,268 such incidents.
The roots of this uptick in hate speech, attacks and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories are complex and include a mix of right-wing political extremism, the influence and appeal of global antisemitic rhetoric on the internet, and conspiracy theories surrounding current events such as the pandemic and the Israel-Hamas conflict.
For Muslims in Western countries, the recent spike in hate recalls the steady stream of Islamophobia that has been a consistent presence in their lives since 9/11.
Definitions are always a matter of debate. The situation is no different when it comes to describing and delineating what constitutes antisemitism and Islamophobia.
Legal experts, scholars, governments and editorial staff have wrestled with how to establish the nature, scope and meaning of both terms over the years. The disputes about the base lines and boundaries for what counts as anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim hate and prejudice are far from over, playing a role in courtrooms, politics and public opinion.
Journalists should be aware of these debates and approach both with balance and an understanding of the deep hurt, trauma and sense of injustice involved with words, acts and structures of discrimination and bias.
Words should be chosen carefully. Be sure to discuss the distinctions between, and historical antecedents of, each term. Where appropriate, journalists should acknowledge debates over the definitions in order to bring more depth to their reporting. Above all, reporters should nuance the discussion, avoid stereotypes and provide examples, rather than just labels. For example, as The Associated Press recommends, “[a]void using the term antisemite for an individual other than in a direct quotation. Instead, be specific in describing the person’s words or actions.”
Antisemitism (formerly anti-Semitism), at its most fundamental, is prejudice or discrimination against Jews.
According to the AP Stylebook:
The term was coined in the 19th century by the German writer Wilhelm Marr, who opposed efforts to extend the full rights of German citizenship to Jews. He asserted that Jews were Semites — descended from the Semitic peoples of the Middle East and thus racially different from (and threatening to) Germany’s Aryans. This racist pseudoscience was applied only to Jews, not Arabs.
Although most scholars agree on the above definition, there are broader interpretations, like that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Its definition includes the singling out of Israel and the demonization of its character, which led the German government, for example, to declare, “the state of Israel, being perceived as a Jewish collective, may be the target of [antisemitic] attacks.”
Critics say that these broader definitions are unclear about “the boundary between legitimate criticism of the actions of the Israeli government and Israel-related antisemitism.” In 2021, the Jerusalem Declaration and the Nexus definition were produced in response. The definitions agree with that of the IHRA in principal, differing only when it comes to the relationship between antisemitism and anti-Israel or anti-Zionist rhetoric.
Originally coined to call out anti-Muslim sentiment in the West, the term has evolved into a political concept and analytical category to identify anti-Islamic/anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions across time and in a range of social, political, cultural and geographic contexts.
In 1997, the Runnymede Trust, a British think tank, published the report “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All,” which is widely credited with introducing the term “Islamophobia” into public discourse and providing one of the first comprehensive definitions of it:
Islamophobia refers to unfounded hostility towards Islam. It refers also to the practical consequences of such hostility in unfair discrimination against Muslim individuals and communities, and to the exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political and social affairs.
The report included criticism of the term, with some saying it pandered to political correctness or that it stifled legitimate criticism of Islam. Others believe the term is best “understood through registers of race,” so that it has also been defined this way:
… fear, hostility and hatred of Muslims or Islam that is rooted in racism and that manifests itself in discriminatory, exclusionary and violent practices targeting Muslims and those perceived as Muslims.
The AP recommends against the use of “phobia” in “political and social contexts.” That means terms like “Islamophobia” generally do not appear in publications that operate under AP style. An alternative would be “anti-Muslim hate” or “anti-Muslim sentiment.” However, “Islamophobia” is still widely used by research institutes, advocacy organizations and academics to provide context for, and description of, broad cultural attitudes.
To further parse out these definitions, reporters should also note how antisemitism and Islamophobia have been simmering and showing up in Western contexts for centuries.
Anti-Jewish animosity dates to antiquity, with early Christians attacking Jews for rejecting Christ and blaming them for killing him. Medieval developments added to anti-Jewish myths, with Jews often being blamed for societal problems — including many of the plagues that ravaged Europe. Modern antisemitism emerged out of these foundations, though with a particular emphasis on race as part of emergent nationalisms in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Likewise, antecedents of contemporary Islamophobia have also been around for centuries, with medieval anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim propaganda pushed by Christendom in connection with the Crusades. As with anti-Jewish sentiment, race became part of the mix as early as the 15th century, when Spaniards developed the concept of limpieza de sangre (purity of blood) to argue that being Jewish or Muslim was immutable and could not be changed through conversion to Christianity.
By touching on the “long arcs” of antisemitism and Islamophobia, reporters can help readers remember they are not recent phenomena. Nor are their current amplifications anomalous in Western nations when viewed against the long history of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim language, laws, movements and popular culture over the centuries.
U.S. and North America
- Read “Michigan city ramps up security after op-ed calls it ‘America’s jihad capital’” from AP News no Feb. 5, 2024.
- Read “Muslim council cancels meeting with Trudeau over Liberal stance on hate crimes, Gaza,” from the Toronto Star on Jan. 29, 2024.
- Read “When is criticism of Israel antisemitic? A scholar of modern Jewish history explains,” from The Conversation on Jan. 29, 2024 (Analysis).
- Read “Anti-Muslim incidents jump in US amid Israel-Gaza war,” from Reuters on Jan. 29, 2024.
- Read “He survived the Holocaust. Now he’s teaching metro Phoenix students about dangers of antisemitism,” from AZ Central on Jan. 27, 2024.
- Listen to “Building Jewish and Muslim Interfaith Solidarity,” from State of Belief on Jan. 27, 2024.
- Read “Antisemitism, the world’s oldest hatred, keeps getting worse,” from the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Jan. 26, 2024 (Commentary).
- Read “After stalling in 2023, a bill to define antisemitism in state law is advancing in Georgia,” from AP News on Jan. 23, 2024.
- Read “New York City Schools Will Teach About Antisemitism and Islamophobia,” from The New York Times on Jan. 22, 2024.
- Read “Indiana bill defining antisemitism advances to state Senate,” from AP News on Jan. 18, 2024.
- Read “Tree of Life synagogue demolition begins ahead of rebuilding site of deadly antisemitic attack,” from AP News on Jan. 17, 2024.
- Read “ADL reports antisemitism in United States has ‘skyrocketed’ since Oct. 7 attack,” from The Times of Israel on Jan. 11, 2024.
- Read “Antisemitism, Islamophobia Surge in 2023, Watchdogs Say,” from VOA News on Dec. 29, 2023.
- Read “Don’t let the war tear apart the tapestry of faith that makes America strong,” from Religion News Service on Dec. 27, 2023 (Commentary).
- Read “‘Seen as less human’: Why has Islamophobia surged amid Israel’s Gaza war?” from Al Jazeera on Dec. 21, 2023.
- Read “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is putting Canadian multiculturalism to the test,” from The Conversation on Dec. 15, 2023 (Analysis).
- Read “Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism,” from Religion News Service on Dec. 8, 2023 (Commentary).
- Read “Poll: Less than half of Jewish college students feel safe on campus,” from Religion News Service on Nov. 29, 2023.
- Read “Fighting antisemitism and Islamophobia in one breath,” from Religion News Service on Nov. 27, 2023.
- Read “When Jews are Threatened, Why Can’t Americans Condemn Antisemitism?” from TIME on Nov. 17, 2023 (Commentary).
- Read “University equity and racial justice strategies urgently need to address antisemitism,” from The Conversation on Nov. 14, 2023 (Analysis).
- Read “US sees alarming rise in Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment following Israel-Hamas war,” from the Hindustan Times on Nov. 11, 2023.
- Read “Islamophobia and antisemitism on rise in US amid Israel-Hamas war,” from The Guardian on Nov. 10, 2023.
- Read “The Campus Conundrum,” from Moment Magazine on Nov. 8, 2023 (Commentary).
- Read “The White House is working on a strategy to combat Islamophobia. Many Muslim Americans are skeptical,” from AP News on Nov. 3, 2023.
- Read “FBI director warns antisemitism in US reaching ‘historic levels’” from BBC News Oct. 31, 2023.
- Read “Israel-Hamas war: Canada must act to prevent hate crimes against Muslim and Jewish communities,” from The Conversation on Oct. 30, 2023 (Analysis).
- Listen to “Unharden Our Hearts: Religious Leaders on the Violence In the Middle East,” from State of Belief on Oct. 23, 2023.
- Read “Palestinian Americans decry demonization in media amid rising fear of hate crimes,” from Religion News Service on Oct. 18, 2023.
- Read “Auschwitz survivor decries rise of the far right and increased antisemitism in Germany,” from AP News on Jan. 31, 2024.
- Read “Government: “Shameful” high number of anti-Semitic crimes,” from Deutsche Welle on Jan. 25, 2024.
- Read “Elon Musk visits Auschwitz after uproar over antisemitic messages on X,” from AP News on Jan. 23, 2024.
- Read “In Sweden, burning Qur’ans threaten to send the country’s history of tolerance up in smoke,” from The Conversation on Jan. 10, 2024 (Analysis).
- Read “How liberal conspiracy theories can be just as destructive as their extremist counterparts,” from The Conversation on Jan. 8, 2024 (Analysis).
- Read “Police record rise in religious hate crimes after Israel-Gaza war,” from BBC News on Dec. 29, 2023.
- Read “Contradictory Conditions: Jewish Life in East Germany, Past and Present,” from The Revealeron Dec. 7, 2023.
- Read “Muslims in Europe feel vulnerable to rising hostility over Israel-Gaza,” from Reuters on Nov. 29, 2023.
- Read “Tens of thousands march against antisemitism in London including UK ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson,” from Religion News Service on Nov. 28, 2023.
- Read “Islamophobia, anti-Semitism rises in EU amid Israel-Hamas war: Official,” from Al Jazeera on Nov. 7, 2023.
- Read “The Rescue Of Danish Jews During The Holocaust Continues To Inspire,” from Religion Unplugged on Oct. 9, 2023.
Around the globe
- Read “High-ranking Christian prelate warns of spread of antisemitism by church officials,” from The Times of Israel on Jan. 29, 2024.
- Read “China’s tightly controlled internet flooded with antisemitism following Hamas massacre,” from Fox News on Jan. 28, 2024.
- Read “‘Outraged’: Brazilian Muslims face growing Islamophobia over Gaza war,” from Al Jazeera on Dec. 31, 2023.
- Read “A Wave of Hate Crime Unleashed by Israel-Hamas War Is Testing the World,” from Bloomberg on Nov. 30, 2023.
- Read “The long, dark history of antisemitism in Australia,” from The Conversation on Nov. 23, 2023 (Analysis).
- Read “Antisemitism on Twitter has more than doubled since Elon Musk took over the platform – new research,” from The Conversation on March 20, 2023 (Analysis).
- Read “There is a lot of antisemitic hate speech on social media – and algorithms are partly to blame,” from The Conversation on July 26, 2022 (Analysis).
Sources and experts
The American Jewish Committee is an international think tank and advocacy organization that works to identify and fight anti-Semitism and bigotry, protect human rights and protect Israel and Jewish life everywhere. Its executive director is David Harris. Contact via Jon Schweitzer, director of public affairs.
The Anti-Defamation League tracks discrimination based on religion. ADL has 30 regional offices. Check with local ADL officials for a breakdown on the number and type of antisemitic incidents in your area and for leads on interfaith initiatives.
Imran Awan is a professor of criminology at Birmingham City University. He is one of the United Kingdom’s leading criminologists and experts on Islamophobia and countering extremism.
The Bridge Initiative is a multi-year research project on Islamophobia housed in Georgetown University. The Bridge Initiative aims to disseminate original and accessible research, offers engaging analysis and commentary on contemporary issues, and hosts a wide repository of educational resources to inform the general public about Islamophobia.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations says it is the largest advocacy group for Muslims in the U.S. It advocates for Muslims on issues related to civil liberties and justice. Contact communications director Ibrahim Hooper in Washington, D.C.
Stephen T. Davis is emeritus professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. He contributed an essay titled “Crucifying Jesus: Antisemitism and the Passion Story” to the collection After ‘The Passion’ is Gone: American Religious Consequences. He is the editor of Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy.
Jordan Denari Duffner is a Catholic scholar of Muslim-Christian relations who has written two books on Islamophobia and interfaith relations.
Todd Green is the director of campus partnerships at Interfaith America. Green previously was executive director of America Indivisible and served on the religious studies faculty at Luther College in Iowa. A nationally recognized expert on Islamophobia, Green served in 2016-17 as a Franklin Fellow at the U.S. State Department, where he analyzed and assessed the impact of anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe on countering violent extremism initiatives, refugee and migrant policies, and human rights.
Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer and author of the book Fear of a Muslim Planet: Global Islamophobia in the New World Order. Iftikhar has also been a faculty member at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, where he researched and wrote about Islamophobia as a senior research fellow for The Bridge Initiative. He is also a national advisory board member for the John C. Danforth Center for Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. Contact through his website.
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue is an independent think tank working with leaders in media, business, government and academia to address major international security and socio-economic challenges and improve Europe’s global effectiveness. The institute facilitates policy briefings, research, task forces, scholarships and cross-border networks that bridge intercommunal, religious, socio-economic and political divides.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is an intergovernmental organization with 35 member countries and nine observer countries. Founded in 1998 by former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson, IHRA addresses issues related to the Holocaust and genocide of the Roma. Kathrin Meyer has been secretary-general of the IHRA since 2008. The IHRA’s permanent offices are in Berlin.
Ameena Jandali is a content manager and trainer for the Islamic Networks Group, which combats Islamophobia by educating people about Islam and organizing interfaith events. She also teaches courses on Islam and women in the Middle East at the City College of San Francisco. Arrange an interview through Ishaq Pathan.
Marion Lalisse is the European Union Commission coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred. Press contacts according to country are available on the European Commission’s press page.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan describes itself as a living memorial to the Holocaust, with the express aim of educating diverse visitors about Jewish life before, during and after the Holocaust. Press contact is Kate Brickman.
The Museum of Tolerance challenges visitors to confront bigotry and racism and to understand the Holocaust in both historic and contemporary contexts. It is a project of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which fights antisemitism.
The National Museum of American Jewish History, on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, presents educational programs and experiences that preserve, explore and celebrate the history of Jews in America. Its purpose is to connect Jews more closely to their heritage and to inspire in people of all backgrounds a greater appreciation for the diversity of the American Jewish experience and the freedoms to which Americans aspire.
Arie Perliger is a security studies professor at University of Massachusetts Lowell. His research interests include political violence and extremism.
Hussein Rashid is a visiting professor of Islam at the religion department at Hofstra University and a prolific blogger and commentator on Islam in America. He has written about Islamophobia, for example in this June 3, 2009, column for the website Religion Dispatches.
Arno Rosenfeld is enterprise reporter at the Forward based in Washington, D.C. An award-winning investigative journalist, he has chronicled the Jewish American response to rising fears over antisemitism, covered Jewish college students confronting hostile political climates on campus, reported on local communities grappling with a surge of white supremacist propaganda and exposed the deep rifts among national organizations over political issues.
The Runnymede Trust is a U.K.-based think tank focused on researching racial inequalities in the U.K. and producing educational assets, policy briefings and public engagement pieces to provide the tools with which to “dismantle systemic racism and barriers to opportunity across society.” Its interim CEO is Shabna Begum.
Maurice Samuels is a French professor at Yale University, where he also directs the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism.
Leonard Saxe directs the Steinhardt Social Research Institute and the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He has conducted studies on many aspects of Jewish life, including intermarriage, the impact of Birthright Israel and antisemitism on college campuses.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles is an international Jewish human rights organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust by fostering tolerance and understanding. The center also focuses on contemporary issues, including racism, antisemitism, terrorism and genocide.
The USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, formerly Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, is a nonprofit organization that documents the experiences of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses. It has taped more than 50,000 testimonies and produced films and classroom materials. Its mission is to “overcome prejudice, intolerance and bigotry – and the suffering they cause – through the educational use of the Foundation’s visual histories.”
Irene Zempi is an associate professor in criminology at Nottingham Trent University. Zempi is also chair of the British Society of Criminology Hate Crime Network, the lead of the NTU Hate Crime Research Group. She has published multiple books on Islamophobia.