15 December 2023
This briefing analyses how groups from across the ideological spectrum that are otherwise opposed to each other find common ground around shared antisemitic conspiracy theories and antisemitic expressions of anti-Zionism, especially since Hamas’ 7 October attacks in Israel.
Antisemitic discourses have often been split within discrete ideological categories, including extreme right, far left and Islamist antisemitism (see the definitional annex for more detail). In practice, there is significant convergence between different ideological groupings whose antisemitic narratives mirror each other. Since the 7 October attacks in particular, diverse fringe movements have coalesced around antisemitic conspiracy theories and antisemitic expressions of anti-Zionism.
Different expressions of antisemitism across ideologies can be presented very differently and do not lead to the same types of threat. Jewish people have felt under physical threat from actors from both ends of the political spectrum, even if few high-profile instances of extreme violence have been observed against Jews by the far left (in line with low contemporary rates of far-left violent extremism more generally). This is in contrast with high levels of incitement to violence against Jews in extreme-right and Islamist online spaces.
Despite these differences, similarities in antisemitic rhetoric and behaviours can often be observed across a broad spectrum. This trend has emerged over a number of years but is particularly pronounced in the wake of 7 October, following wider trends of ‘hybridisation’, where different ideologies and ecosystems have inter-mixed on social media and cross-fertilised narratives and aesthetics.
Recently published opinion research shows that neither left- nor right-wing views are a particular predictor of antisemitism. Rather, it finds that conspiratorial worldviews, anti-hierarchical aggression and a preference for authoritarianism– which can occur across the political spectrum– best predict antisemitism. It is in this context that actors with vastly different ideologies who otherwise would be on opposing ends of debates around religion, immigration, feminism and LGBTQ+ rights converge around shared conspiracy theories about Jewish people and Israel.
The narratives explored below– conspiracy theories and antisemitic expressions of anti-Zionism– are demonstrative of the intersection of diverse ideological communities. This work is not a comprehensive investigation of the prevalence of antisemitism across the political extremes and does not propose that antisemitism is a consensus or even a majority view on the mainstream political left or right.
Conspiracy theories about Jewish money and power
Eminent Holocaust scholar and US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, Deborah Lipstadt, explains how, whereas most racisms ‘punch down’, antisemitism ‘punches up’. Anti-black racism, for example, often uses biological racism to argue that black people are somehow inferior to white people; that they are less clever, clean or worthy of fundamental rights. Antisemitism does the opposite; it constructs Jews as too powerful, too rich and too influential. These narratives are part and parcel of extreme-right ideologies and, as the Community Security Trust (CST) Head of Policy Dave Rich argues, have the potential to slot neatly into far-left worldviews.
The narrative that Jews seek power also manifests as dog whistles or euphemisms, permitting plausible deniability for its proponents both on the extreme right and the far left. Both commonly use antisemitic language to refer to ‘Zionists’ rather than ‘Jews’. For example, the phrase ‘Zionist occupied government’ or ‘ZOG’ is widely used in white nationalist ecosystems to infer Jewish control over states. On the far left or in Islamist spaces, there is often a practice of using ‘Zionists’ as an interchangeable term for describing ‘Jews’. For example, former university professor David Miller, a regular guest on Iranian state TV channel Press TV’s show ‘Palestine Declassified’, concluded a Twitter/X thread about ‘zionist propagandists’ with a post that “Jews…are over-represented in Europe, North America and Latin America in positions of cultural, economic and political power”, mirroring the most overt far-right antisemitic talking points.
Image: Post on X by David Miller.
Conspiracy theories about Jewish political interference and hunger for power are often bolstered by current events. For example, both far-left and extreme-right revisionist narratives regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the role of NATO have both been expressed in antisemitic manners. Both extreme-right and far-left actors, in their attempt to discredit Ukrainian democracy and present the war as an equal fault of both sides, have weaponised President Zelenskyy’s Jewish heritage to present him as duplicitous or in the Israeli government’s pocket. Common to both narratives is a central idea behind all racist conspiracy theories: that the individual being criticised is not being honest about their motivations, but instead advancing a hidden ethnic or religious agenda.
There are clear precedents of far-right narratives appearing in spaces which host people with diverse ideologies. Research by the anti-hate charities CST and HOPE not Hate evidenced how the discussion group Keep Talking, which is centred around conspiracy theories, became a regular meeting place for extreme-right figures and former Labour Party members alike. The politically mixed audience heard from group founder and former academic Nick Kollerstrom – who has spoken of ‘storybook gas chambers’ – and activist James Thring – who engages in conspiracy theories – that no deaths were recorded at Auschwitz. The group was regularly attended by Alison Chabloz, twice convicted for Holocaust denial, and others, including Pete Gregson, who was expelled from the Labour Party for claiming that the ‘Holocaust was exaggerated’. Conspiratorial Holocaust revisionist narratives typically perceive that Jewish people have constructed and manipulated narratives for a political or financial purpose. It is this inherent suspicion that Jewish people have alternative agendas which can unite the extreme right and far-left ideas.
Rooted in the form of antisemitism which ‘punches up’, conspiracy theories shared by a multitude of fringe movements have sought to downplay the 7 October attacks by either accusing Israel of being responsible for the deaths of Israeli civilians or claiming that they were exaggerated or that those killed were not civilians. The editor of Muslim media platform 5Pillars – which regularly hosts content from the Islamist organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir – Roshan Salih, claimed ‘the most likely scenario is that the IDF killed 100s of their own people on 7 October and they are making up stories about Hamas atrocities’.
Image: Post on X by Roshan Salih
Videos presented as evidence for this conspiracy theory, such as alleged footage from an apache helicopter shooting at people in a field, was shared widely across social media.
In the same vein, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPACUK) – a self-described civil liberties pressure group who have spread conspiracy theories about Jews and have been banned from campuses by the National Union of Students – shared a video from Canadian far-right outlet Rebel News, claiming that the Israelis themselves committed the atrocities and blamed Hamas for it. In his appearance on the 5Pillars podcast, the rapper Lowkey (who hosts a podcast for the far-left conspiracy website MintPress) also spread similar conspiracy theories. This included claims that Israeli forces were responsible for a significant share of deaths on 7 October itself, part of a broader conspiracy theory seeking to deny the facts of the massacre. In these ways, a range of ideological actors have coalesced around such conspiracy theories, many of them applying typical antisemitic framings to the current crisis in remarkably similar ways.
Image: Post on X by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK, sharing a video by Rebel News.
Antisemitic expressions of anti-Zionism
Anti-Israel positions are not inherently antisemitic but can be presented using antisemitic language or framings. Examples of antisemitic anti-Israel language include comparing Israel to Nazi Germany; transposing classical antisemitic tropes such as the blood libel onto Israel; and holding diasporic Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel. In this context, anti-Zionism can be used – albeit not exclusively – as a dog whistle for broader attacks on Jews.
One example of this is the Iranian state Press TV show ‘Palestine Declassified’, hosted by former Labour MP Chris Williamson, “who has been previously accused of engaging in antisemitic conspiracy theories”. The show has pushed a multitude of antisemitic conspiracy theories about ‘Zionist’ control of media and political influence operations. Web traffic data, captured by the Anti-Defamation League and the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, demonstrate the show’s reach among Western left-leaning audiences, indicating the cross-ideological reach of antisemitic anti-Zionist views.
Similarly, far-right actors frequently share antisemitic materials from other movements. A recent book by the far-left Electronic Intifada editor Asa Winstanley which claims that a British ‘Israel lobby’ is ‘weaponizingantisemitism’ (also the book’s title) in order to oppress Palestinian rights, was shared and supported on Telegram by the likes of BNP founder Nick Griffin and channels linked to the white nationalist group Patriotic Alternative. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party declared that ‘suggesting that complaints of antisemitism are fake or smears’ can itself be antisemitic.
Since 7 October, diverse ideological actors have coalesced around antisemitic anti-Zionism, building on foundations made during previous conflicts, such as the May 2021 Israel-Gaza war. For example, the below cartoon, posted on multiple extreme-right networks during the 2021 Israel-Gaza conflict escalation, depicts an Islamist fighter and a Nazi united by ‘one struggle’ against Israel. Extreme-right ecosystems supported violent Palestinian resistance based on the perception of a shared Jewish enemy who was seen to be coordinating ethnic cleansing against both Palestinians and white Europeans. Concurrently, the adoption of far-right subcultures in online Salafist communities exemplifies the emergence of cross-ideological exchange, with Jews as the common enemy.
Image: A cartoon shared on extreme-right Telegram channels in May 2021
Expressions of Palestinian solidarity from extreme-right actors do not preclude the continued Islamophobia held by extreme right movements. For some on the far right, as British far-right activist Jim Dowson identified in a live stream, “Islam is one problem, but it’s not the problem”, with antisemitism being prioritised over other prejudices in the current polarised climate. It is in this context that far-right activist Tommy Robinson attempted to join a London protest against antisemitism, despite being rejected by the organisers and the Jewish community writ large.
While the far-right reactions to the events in Israel-Palestine since 7 October have been mixed, many extreme-right online communities were overt in their support for Palestinian violent resistance. Likewise, some far-left groups have justified 7 October as a victory for social justice or ‘decolonisation’. A recent in-depth investigation by the Community Security Trust identifies, for example, how literature and comments associated with the Socialist Workers’ Party have ‘voiced support – even happiness – over the Hamas attacks’, including euphemistic violent language.
Further demonstrating such ideological intersections, 5Pillars Deputy Editor Dilly Hussain hosted Nick Griffin on his podcast Blood Brothers to discuss the 7 October massacre and its aftermath. Hussain and Griffin presented narratives that could be perceived as strongly antisemitic, despite both claiming that they were not against Jews, but merely Zionism. The pair went on to claim that the media and Hollywood are owned and controlled by Jews, and that Western countries operate a ‘Jewish supremacist’ system of foreign policy. The podcast conversation elaborated religious antisemitism, referring to the UK Board of Deputies as the ‘Sanhedrin Talmudic priesthood’, as well as drawing on historical antisemitic tropes, claiming that Jews have been expelled throughout history for offending people, and associating Jews with ‘usury’ (extortionate money lending), which was framed as one of the most damaging forces in the world. In such contexts the word ‘Zionist’ can often be plausibly interpreted as merely a euphemism for ‘Jews’. While such exchanges do not represent complete overlap between Hussein and Griffin’s ideological agenda, it nonetheless provides an opportunistic mechanism for promotion both of their movements and their antisemitic framings.
While not ideologically identical, various fringe movements promote antisemitic narratives which share various core framings in their essentialisation and conspiratorial assumptions about Jews. Around key inflection points, such as the 7 October attack, such actors mirror and thereby amplify each other’s antisemitic discourse. While antisemitic codes or dog whistles may be unique to specific ideological ecosystems, shared narratives can often draw on the same core assumptions about Jews, rooted in Medieval or Nazi-era thought. Increasingly, unlikely cross-ideological alliances around attitudes towards Jews are materialising, with the potential for real-world consequences for Jewish communities. In the online environment, they serve to amplify antisemitic and potentially violent content across multiple ideological ecosystems, facilitating the spreading and embedding of antisemitic ideologies and tactics.
Approaches to tackling antisemitism by governments, platforms and civil society alike often frame threat priorities around specific ideological categories. This research shows that an ‘either/or’ approach misunderstands the nature of antisemitism and its ideological intersections across the political spectrum. A whole-of-society issue demands a whole-of-society response, with anti-hate work directed at the roots of antisemitic narratives rather than a hyper-focus on one iteration or another. An often-politicised focus on the nature of the perpetrator should give way to a forensic understanding and dismantling of antisemitism wherever it appears.
The ideological and operational mixing of antisemitic ideas across the political spectrum is situated in a wider trend of increasing inter-linking of previously distinct extremist networks, aided by the accessibility of hateful content across digital platforms. A cross-harm perspective – which recognises the centrality of antisemitism within a broad spectrum of extremism, conspiracy theories and hate speech – is vital to fully capture the cross-fertilisation of hateful narratives in the ever-evolving ecosystem of disparate actors and ideologies.
There is no agreed definition of what constitutes the ‘extreme right’. A widely accepted definitional minimum of ‘far right’ created by Cas Mudde identifies five core elements common to the majority of definitions: strong-state values, nationalism, xenophobia, racism and anti-democracy. Within the broad framework of ‘far right’, Mudde identifies two branches, the radical right and the extreme right, which are differentiated by attitudes towards strategic political violence (typically supported by the extreme right) and democracy (while the extreme right rejects all forms of democracy, the radical right opposes liberal democracy while working within democratic frameworks). This article considers the extreme right, rather than the broader far or radical right movements.
There is no broadly agreed upon definition of the far left, and the scholarship on such groups in contemporary Western societies is much less developed than research on the far right. Far left groups, actions or networks are typically rooted in Marxist, socialist or anarchist ideologies, and pursue an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and radically egalitarian, anti-fascist agenda, typically with an internationalist outlook. Following Mudde and political researcher Luke March, and resonating with the differentiation of the far right, a distinction should be made between left-wing radicalism and extremism, where the latter groups are anti-democratic, and the former advocate fundamental political and economic changes without being anti-democratic per se. See: Guhl, J. ‘Far-left antisemitism’, Institute for Strategic Dialogue, 2023.
Islamist extremism uses violence, politics, or social activism to advocate for the creation of an exclusionary and totalitarian Islamic state, within which religious outgroups are subjected to implicit, explicit or violent means of subjugation and prejudice.