Recognising Antisemitism

A guide to the language, themes and imagery of ‘the oldest hatred’

Antisemitism is a millennia-old phenomenon that, over the centuries, has spawned its own unique beliefs, language and mythology. It is an ideology in its own right.

Antisemitic Language

The vocabulary of antisemitic abuse is both extensive and colourful. Much of it harks back to the ideology and behaviour of Nazi Germany, while more recent anti-Jewish language is rooted in the anti-Israel narrative. The most frequently used expressions are shown below.

Cockroach / Rat / Parasite / Disease / Sickness / Virus

These words all deliberately draw upon the language used by Nazi Germany to characterise Jews and to justify the attempt to exterminate them.

Jews were considered by Hitler to be sub-human. He described them as a sickness that had infected Germany. He also portrayed them as an infestation of vermin.


A word used by Holocaust-deniers to portray the extermination of six million Jews as a fraud that has been carried out by the Jewish people for financial gain.


As strange as it may sound, the word ‘Jew’ itself can be a term of antisemitic abuse, depending on the context in which it is used. It can even be heard as a playground insult.




American in origin. One of the most offensive ethnic slurs that can be directed at a Jewish person. On a par with the N-word and derogatory names for Pakistani people.


An insult implying that its target should have been killed by the Nazis, who used mass crematoria to dispose of the bodies of the Jews they murdered.


The Rothschilds established themselves as a wealthy family of bankers in the early nineteenth century. They appear in many anti-Jewish conspiracy theories as a sinister, controlling force. The use of ‘Rothschild’ (i.e. ‘A Rothschild plot’) is invariably a device to avoid saying ‘Jew’ or ‘Jewish’.


Abusive term derived from the German word for ‘Jew’.

It is problematic due to its having been adopted in the 1970s by the strong Jewish fan base of Tottenham Hotspur as a badge of identification in response to antisemitic chanting from opposing supporters. It is still used today, even though the Jewish support is now far smaller. Many Jews are unhappy with its use in this context. It continues to provoke antisemitic chanting, including songs about Auschwitz and hissing intended to resemble the sound of the gas used by the Nazi to murder Jews.

Outside of football, its use is always antisemitic.


An extremely complicated and often confusing term, as it can be used quite legitimately in political discussion. Zionism is simply the belief of the Jewish people in their right to exist, free from persecution, in their own country. Those claiming to be only anti-Zionist, not antisemitic are denying Israel’s right to exist, which is considered to be one of the manifestations of antisemitism. Criticism of specific policies of the Israeli government is not antisemitic.

‘Zionist’ is increasingly being used as a way of avoiding saying Jew. People who do this will usually exhibit other forms of antisemitic behaviour. The use of modifications, such as Zio, ZioTroll, and especially ZioNazi is always clearly antisemitic in intent.

Zyklon B

The gas used to murder Jews in the Nazi gas chambers. The intent here is to abuse by using the most painful and upsetting reference imaginable for a Jewish person.