The Middle East, a region steeped in historical, cultural, and geopolitical complexities, has long been a hotbed of tensions, conflicts, and power struggles. Among the myriad factors shaping the dynamics of the region, the narratives of antisemitism and anti-Zionism have played a significant role. This short article, based on ongoing research about contemporary antisemitism, delves into the intricate interplay between these radical ideologies and the geopolitics of the Middle East (including the Gulf area), exploring their historical roots, contemporary manifestations, and their implications on regional stability. Particularly, this article deals with the following question: What is the connection and relation between antisemitism, a religiously-based hatred of Jews, and global or regional power struggles? That is, how does antisemitism relate to geopolitics?

Antisemitism, as defined in 2016 by IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance), is “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” Nowadays, in the 21st century, antisemitism is a mixture of religious, racial, and cultural ideas, by which Jews are perceived to be the root of all evil in society. Antisemitism is an age-old hatred of Jews, and one might assume it has everything to do with personal radical beliefs about people of other religions or origins, and nothing to do with geopolitics. However, antisemitism, and racism as well, is not just about personal beliefs; I would even argue that it has more to do with politics and the struggle for power than personal beliefs. One should consider whether antisemitism is a top-down or a bottom-up approach. The fact of the matter is that religious leaders and politicians throughout history have promoted antisemitism, infecting the masses with hate.

In the geopolitics of the Middle East, to understand the utilization of antisemitism, also known as anti-Zionism since the establishment of the world’s only Jewish state in 1948, it is imperative to delve into the historical underpinnings of these topics. Antisemitism—prejudice and discrimination against Jewish people—have existed for centuries, manifesting in various forms, from religious persecution to ethnic stereotypes. In the Middle East, where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam intersect, attitudes toward Jews have been shaped by a complex interplay of religious, cultural, and political factors.

During the early days of Christianity, the Church and clergy used antisemitism to gain support and legitimacy from the people. Similarly, early Islam also discredited Jews (and, in that same sense, Christians) to legitimize its own rule in the Arabian Peninsula. During the Age of Enlightenment, antisemitism (and racism, for that matter) was used as a pseudo-scientific “fact” to legitimize Europe’s rule globally. It also helped European leaders domestically, where socioeconomic and cultural differences between native Europeans and immigrants were evident. What easier way was there, and still is, to gain popularity than to blame most, if not all, social problems on others? After all, it was Karl Lueger, the late 19th century mayor of Vienna, who claimed only he could “decide who is a Jew.” By that interpretation, Lueger determined who could be blamed for life’s problems.

Later, during the first decades of the 20th century, as we are all aware, Hitler gained power by blaming the Jews as well—Lueger was his role model. The Nazi führer gained domestic support by relying on the age-old prejudice of Europeans and Germans toward Jews. Using the Nazi Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (known as the Propagandaministerium), he further promoted antisemitism. Jew hatred enabled the Nazis to invade and attack other neighboring countries and to engage in geopolitical adventures in Europe. The Nazi attempt to annihilate the Jewish people and the Jewish spirit was driven by rooted hate and envy, as the Nazis believed it was the Jews who could threaten them and the narrative of Aryan race superiority. The Nazi attempt failed, and antisemitism seemingly became less legitimate after the Holocaust, as it was associated with fascism and Nazism—ideologies the Allies fought from1939 to 1945; however, it was not eradicated.

Before the Holocaust, the rise of Zionism in the late 19th century, advocating for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Mandatory Palestine/Eretz Israel (1920/1922–1948), added another layer to the region’s dynamics. As Jewish immigration to the area increased, tensions between Jewish and Arab communities escalated, fueled by competing national aspirations and territorial claims. Jews sought refuge from pogroms and discrimination, while the surrounding Arab countries laid claims on the territory previously held by the Ottoman Empire before the British Mandate. The rejection of Zionism by Arab leaders and intellectuals created the groundwork for the fusion of anti-Zionism with existing Islamic antisemitic sentiments, framing Jews not only as religious or ethnic others but also as [geo]political adversaries. The British Mandate came to an end in April–May 1948 and the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine decided to divide the land between Jews and Arabs. The Jews accepted the terms while the Arab parties did not; they declared war on the Jews and on the newly established Jewish state, which acted as the sole shelter for Jews after the Holocaust. The Arab and Muslim states, later supported by the Soviet Union, opposed Zionism—the idea that Israel could and should be a national home for the Jewish people, who are indigenous to Israel from time immemorial.

In the geopolitics of the Middle East, various actors have used antisemitism and anti-Zionism for diverse purposes. Governments, political movements, and extremist groups have all sought to leverage these ideologies to advance their agendas, whether for domestic control, regional influence, or ideological supremacy. In 1948 the Jewish people, who had been a religious and ethnic minority for thousands of years while suffering from discrimination, violence, abuse, and genocidal attempts, finally established their state. The establishment of the Jewish state occurred during the early days of the Cold War, and both the United States and the Soviet Union eagerly anticipated which side the newly established state would align with. Israel chose the United States and the West, whereas the Arab states partied with the Soviet Union, thus creating a situation where both global powers had regional proxies in the Middle East—Israel and the Arab and Muslim states. At home, Joseph Stalin who ruled the Soviet Union from 1924 until 1953 also used antisemitism to portray Jews as international capitalists, who, unless stripped of their religion, might undermine his control. Soviet leadership also sought to suppress any Zionist support from Soviet Jews. In the famous example of the “Doctors’ Plot” of 1951–1953, Stalin accused Jewish doctors of conspiring to assassinate Soviet leaders.

After the Six-Day War of 1967 and the astonishing defeat of the Arab states by Israel, the Soviet Union lost tremendous influence in the Middle East and elsewhere. It quickly enhanced its antisemitic anti-Zionist campaigns. Newspapers like Pravda or Izvestiya, and international newspapers in English, Arabic, and other languages spread antisemitic anti-Zionism. For example in 1970, the Soviet Weekly, an English-language Soviet outlet published in the United Kingdom, described Zionism and Israel as “not so much the Jewish nationalist movement it used to be as an organic part of the international—primarily American— imperialist machinery for the carrying out of neocolonialist policies and ideological subversion.”[1] In 1975, through the Soviet and Arab manipulation of the United Nations, the General Assembly accepted Resolution 3379 which determined that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” This led to further discrimination against the Jewish state. In December 1991, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 46/48 revoked Resolution 3379 to legitimize the future Oslo Accords in the 1990s. However, many had already become brainwashed into believing that Jews and Israel were the root cause of all evil. Simultaneously, the Soviet Union had promoted Palestinian terrorist organizations and Arab opposition to Israel. Since the early days of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964 and onwards, Soviet propaganda promoted both Palestinian narratives and terrorism, and antisemitic anti-Zionism.[2]

The Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, but the propaganda machine kept on promoting antisemitic anti-Zionism. Proxies of the Soviet Union became proxies of the Russian Federation, and from 1979 the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as Qatar and other countries, promoted such propaganda. Many regimes in the Middle East use antisemitism as a tool for domestic cohesion and external projection of power. Iran has propagated virulent antisemitic rhetoric, often denying the Holocaust and calling for the destruction of Israel. This serves the regime’s agenda of delegitimizing Israel while rallying support among anti-Western and anti-Israeli sentiments in the region. Furthermore, as the Middle East and the Gulf area are global trade hubs, including energy routing, states like Russia and Iran seek to gain dominance over those who attempt to keep the areas fair and free.

Anti-Zionism, the rejection of the Zionist ideology and the state of Israel, has been employed by various political actors in the Middle East as a means to rally popular support and challenge existing power structures. Palestinian nationalist movements, such as the Hamas terrorist organization and the Palestinian Authority, which also promotes antisemitism, have framed their resistance against Israel within an anti-Zionist but also very much an antisemitic discourse, appealing to pan-Arab and Islamic sentiments while garnering international sympathy for their cause.[3] Antisemitism and anti-Zionism have also been utilized in inter-Arab and inter-Islamic contexts, reflecting broader geopolitical rivalries and ideological divides. The Arab–Israeli conflict, exacerbated by anti-Zionist narratives, has served as a rallying point for Arab solidarity and a pretext for interventionist policies by regional powers. Moreover, the sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims have intersected with anti-Zionist rhetoric, with both Sunni and Shia groups accusing each other of collusion with Israel to undermine their respective agendas.

The 1990s, with the failed Oslo Accords, as well as the early 2000s did not yield any positive progress regarding Israel, its Arab neighbors, and antisemitic anti-Zionism. On the contrary, after the launch of social media platforms, mainly since 2004–2005, antisemitism gained an increasing public presence worldwide, not just among Israel’s adversaries. Suddenly, every single internet user became the author, promoter, editor, gatekeeper, and publisher of such hateful content. Social media posts and website content reached billions, with no limitations of time and space. Antisemitic content created in the Middle East and in the Gulf area radicalized Europeans, Americans, Russians, and more. Only years later, in 2020, did a more sensible process begin.

In December 2020, Morocco and Israel signed a normalization agreement. It marked the beginning of the public process toward normalization between Israel and the Arab/Muslim world. Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed declarations later, and it was expected that Saudi Arabia, a major regional power in the area and an opponent of Iran, would also sign this agreement in the future. These agreements could potentially facilitate trading routes and alliances from the Maghreb to the Middle East to the Gulf area to Europe. This path could severely undermine Russian, Iranian, and even Chinese influence worldwide as they seek to control global goods and energy (oil, gas) routes. Yet. the deadly terrorist attack by the Hamas terrorist organization on the morning of October 7, 2023 managed to undermine such a process. It is not unlikely that Russo–Iranian efforts to undermine the normalization process affected the October 7 terrorist attack. Later, the Saudis concluded that they would not abandon future normalization options, but they could not do so while Israel is engaged in warfare to protect itself in the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, the October 7 attack also deflected global attention from Ukraine, with funds and arms from the West changing routes as some were shipped to Israel and not Ukraine. Indeed, Russia has only gained from this terrorist attack and from the war in Gaza (which could escalate to a war with Egypt, Hezbollah’s Lebanon, and other countries and entities as time goes by).

Following the October 7 attack, Houthi Rebels, an Iranian-backed proxy in Yemen, announced that they would disrupt global shipping passing through the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandab Strait to support the Palestinian side and to oppose Israel. The vast majority of global trade is transported via cargo ships, which must sail through the Red Sea to pass through the Suez Canal. Further, the Strait of Hormuz, under Iranian influence can also be restricted. The October 7 attack has shifted the global trading route between Asia and Europe, extended sailing routes, and has made global goods and energy more expensive. The significance of the Houthi impact led the United States and the United Kingdom to initiate military attacks against the Houthis, actions that had also deflected global attention from Ukraine.[4] Indeed, the Hamas terrorist attack, backed by antisemitic ideologies, managed to halt, perhaps even stop, the normalization process.

The geopolitical equation is simple—the more global anti-Zionism and antisemitism grow, the less support Israel has, and the less influence the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe have in the Middle East and the Gulf area. In such a situation, regional powers like Iran and global powers like Russia or China can have more influence over global trading routes and deflect pressure from other regions and issues. Furthermore, domestic electoral pressure within Western democracies by antisemitic political candidates, extensive protests, and foreign influence campaigns on social media nudge politicians to reduce their support both of Israel and of local Jewish communities. American President Joe Biden is facing domestic pressure from his electorate to halt support for Israel. Antisemitism, through antisemitic anti-Zionism, is used to shape geopolitical aims and conflicts in the 21st century as it did during the 20th century and before. This strategy is similar to the Soviet antisemitic anti-Zionist campaign, as mentioned previously, which aimed to undermine the Western grip in the Middle East. To put it simply, countries like Iran, Qatar, and Russia, perhaps even China, use antisemitism via proxies, to strengthen their grip on gas routes, oil routes, and trade routes.

The exploitation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism in the geopolitics of the Middle East carries profound implications for regional stability, prospects for peace, and international relations. The instrumentalization of antisemitism and anti-Zionism perpetuates the Arab–Israeli conflict by deepening mutual distrust and animosity between opposing sides. As long as these ideologies are used to delegitimize the other’s existence and rights, prospects for reconciliation remain elusive. It is also important to note that antisemitic and anti-Zionist narratives contribute to the radicalization of populations and the empowerment of extremist groups. Since the October 7 attack on Israel, some groups in the United States and Europe have become more radical by scapegoating Jews and Israel for internal grievances and external challenges. Such ideologies fuel violence, terrorism, and sectarian strife across the region. In the geopolitics of the Middle East, the utilization of antisemitism and anti-Zionism reflects a complex web of historical grievances, political calculations, and ideological struggles. Whether employed by authoritarian regimes, terrorist organizations, or extremist factions, these ideologies exacerbate tensions, perpetuate conflicts, and undermine efforts for peace and cooperation. Addressing the root causes of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, fostering mutual understanding, and promoting inclusive dialogue are essential steps toward building a more stable, tolerant, and prosperous Middle East. Only when Israel’s neighboring regimes and global powers stop the spread of hate, will religious hatred decline.

[1] Baruch A. Hazan, Soviet Propaganda: A Case of the Middle East Conflict (Routledge, 2017), 150.

[2] Jonathan Fox and Lev Topor, Why Do People Discriminate Against Jews? (Oxford University Press, 2021), 151; Izabella Tabarovsky, “Demonisation Blueprints: Soviet Conspiracist Antizionism in Contemporary Left-Wing Discourse,” in The Rebirth of Antisemitism in the 21st Century – From the Academic Boycott Campaign into the Mainstream, ed. David Hirsh (Routledge, 2023), 34–60.

[3] “UNRWA textbooks Still Include Hate, Antisemitism Despite Pledge to Remove — Watchdog,” Times of Israel, July 7, 2022,

[4] Simon Scarr, Adolfo Arranz, Jonathan Saul, Han Huang, and Jitesh Chowdhury, “Red Sea Attacks – How Houthi Militants in Yemen Are Attacking Ships in One of the World’s Busiest Maritime Trade Routes,” Reuters, February 2, 2024,