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While the term antisemitism would seem on the face of it to mean prejudice against the so-called Semitic peoples — the Arabs, Assyrians, Samaritans and Jews of the Levant, as well as the Ethiopians; it is almost universally understood nowadays to refer exclusively to anti-Jewish attitudes and actions, which have taken a number of forms along a spectrum that ranges from discourses that paint Jews as embodying particular stereotypical characteristics to genocide. Less commonly, it can also mean prejudice against speakers of Semitic languages or adherents of Abrahamic religions. The most specific and literal definition would be any bias against the biblical character of Shem specifically. The term is also sometimes used as a snarl word to dismiss valid criticisms of Zionism and of Israeli foreign policy.
 General prejudice
Most such beliefs feed off of ignorance and prejudice that arises from historical interpretations of Christianity and its teachings, and have traditionally been fanned with accusations of heresy and obvious cultural differences, as well as Biblical associations of Jewish leaders (often referred to simply as "the Jews," or that perennial sign of Nazi beliefs, "the Jew," by the dumb and those who tend to misspeak), with the death of Jesus. Antisemitism also pops up occasionally among Muslim communities, often combined with banking conspiracies and 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Anti-Semites frequently claim that Jews secretly control banks/governments/the media/the Treaty of Versailles. Tragically, on occasion some Jews fail to respond appropriately to such accusations, confirming conspiracy theorists' baseless concerns in their minds. It is similar to racism in that it frequently applies a stereotype or stereotypes to all members of a diverse group. Nazism took antisemitism to horrific extremes, resulting in the Holocaust. Modern antisemitism frequently takes the form of Holocaust denial or mass media/governmental conspiracy theories such as the "Zionist Occupational Government" (ZOG) beloved of white supremacists, but classic anti-Semitic tracts including the infamous 19th century Russian forgery The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion have become increasingly popular in the Middle East. Some lunatic anti-Semite may think almost every person he/she doesn't like (or is rich) is Jewish, even when they aren't.
Both the left and right are guilty of antisemitism. Ruth Fischer, a Communist leader of Weimar-era (1919-1933) Germany, called for "Jewish capitalists" to be hanged from lampposts; ironically her contemporary Hitler, considered Communism to be a Jewish plot - but he also liked the stereotype of the Jewish banker.
 How Antisemitism differs from plain old racism
While most racists believe that the victims of their hatred are inferior to them (e.g. no white supremacist thinks that black people secretly control the world), antisemitism ascribes some traits of "superiority" to its victims. In the mind of the antisemite "the Jews" own or control "the money", "the media" and are behind Capitalism, Communism or both. Also characteristic for antisemitism (though this may be found with some racists as well) is that Jews can do what they want, they are always "evil" for it. If Jewish men have sex, they are the "evil perverters of the youth" if they don't they are "not normal" or in some "diabolical pact" that prohibits them from having sex. If Jews are poor they are - in the eyes of the anti-Semite - "useless moochers" if they are wealthy they "control the banks" and are "usurers". While many anti-Semites grant that Jews are (supposedly) more intelligent than average people, they are again accused of using that intelligence for their nefarious schemes.
Antisemitism does not necessitate the presence of Jews. In Japan for example, there is virulent antisemitism in the right wing but there are hardly any Jews to be found. The same is true for most of the Arab world. And even more surprisingly, antisemitism may indeed work while never uttering the word "Jew". Some simply replace "Jews" for "Zionists" (see below), while others use the evil bankster trope without ever saying or implying that the "banksters" are Jews. (Hint: If your opponent starts quoting the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion (s)he might just be a tad anti-Semitic.) This kind of antisemitism has also infected mainstream political culture in Malaysia to a small extent. And it can be found to some degree or other around the world.
 Zionism and anti-Zionism
Anti-Zionism is not necessarily antisemitic, however, many antisemites use anti-Zionism as a kind of cover and entry-level recruiting tool. In addition, most antisemites see Zionism not as a modern movement to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, but as some kind of ancient, all-encompassing world conspiracy — in their language, the term "Zionism" means more or less the same as The Jews.™ It's embarrassing for advocates of the Palestinian cause (which, considering the broad belief - at least in principle - for a two-state solution in Israel, means a lot of Jews).
On the flip side, Israel's staunchest gentile defenders in the United States tend to be extreme evangelical Protestants, who eagerly look forward to the "ingathering" of Jews in Israel followed by their massacre and/or forced conversion to Christianity. No, seriously: John Hagee, one of these tireless soldiers for Christ and Israel, got into a little trouble after opining that the Nazi Holocaust was all part of God's plan to punish European Jews for being too irreligious, or something. Strange bedfellows.
 3D Test of Antisemitism
Obviously, it's possible to not hate Jews but be upset at Israeli policies, but the difficulty lies in determining the difference between these two as anti-semites may hide behind anti-zionism. A useful (though not universally accepted) test for determining the difference between anti-semitism and anti-zionism is the "3D" test.
- Demonization. Exaggerations or outright lies intended to portray Israelis or all Jews as subhuman or evil.
- Deligitimatization. Claims that Israel has no right to exist or the Jews are not "real" Jews or descendants from the Jews that left Israel 2000-2500 years ago, commonly using the Khazar myth (see below).
- Double Standards. While focusing on Israel is hardly proof of antisemitism (a person volunteering in an animal shelter doesn't hate people at homeless shelters, usually), outright denial of the extent of ethnic cleansing Jews faced from the Islamic world post '48 while focusing on the Palestinians is very much a double standard (and so is focusing on the fleeing Jews while ignoring the Palestinians).
 Khazar myth
Some anti-Semites attempt to discredit Israel and the ethnicity of many Jews as a whole by claiming that the Ashkenazi Jews (i.e., those descended from a German bloodline) are not actually Jews, but descended from the Turkic Khazar Empire. This myth has no evidence behind it — while the Khazar ruling class did adopt Judaism and Jews settled in the Empire, they had already inhabited Europe long before it came about and the historical and genetic evidence doesn't fit this pseudohistorical "theory" either. This is often used as a way to justify the elimination of Israel and/or to explain why the British/Aryan/insert race here are the chosen people of the Bible, and not the Jews.
A similar myth espoused by some people, such as Louis Farrakhan, is that they are not antisemites, as the Jewish people who come from Europe are not the original Semitic peoples,[wp] and that as many Arab Muslims are more closely related to the original Semites than Jews, if they hate Jews and like Muslims they're not antisemitic, you are.
Not that this would matter anyhow, as "the term ["antisemitism"] was popularized in Germany in 1873 as a scientific-sounding term for Judenhass ("Jew-hatred"), although it had been used for at least two decades prior, and that has been its normal use since then".
 See also
- Antisemitism doesn't always come doing a Hitler salute, The Grauniad