A plea against ‘anti-Semitism’

By Shulamit Magnus


With the disturbing increase of attacks on Jewish sites and on Jews in the US, Europe, and elsewhere, the term “anti-Semitism” is much in use. What to call the fear of Jews to appear in public in identifying garb? Fifteen years ago, I told my then-young son, whom I normally encouraged to wear a kipa, not to think of doing so while he was in France to visit relatives, and things have worsened considerably since. Jewish speech now also endangers, as we learned from a recent assault on Hebrew speakers in Berlin, not long after a shooting attack on a synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur. Previously unimaginable acts of shootings and murder at synagogues in several US states and now, at a kosher deli in yet another state, have ripped away a basic sense of security that US Jews have enjoyed, at least in the post-World War II era.

What to term these incidents, and the people and forces behind them– the phenomenon itself? In discussion of all this, the term “anti-Semitism” is ubiquitous but the term is terribly problematic; indeed, part of the problem, and should be dropped from use.

“Anti-Semitism” posits the falsehood that Jews are “Semites.” Jews are – Jews. The term “Semites” implies race. Jews are not a race. In fact, no one is. “Race” is a notion invented by racists who wished (and wish) to distinguish and above all, to hierarchicalize groups, with themselves invariably in the uppermost one. While the term “race” was used, historically, for what the Greeks termed an “ethnos” and what we now call a “people”—that is, a group identifiable by such characteristics as common history, language, culture, and religion– since the invention of modern racism, the term has an entirely different meaning. It has no scientific validity. No group on earth is entirely inbred; humans are not a species like certain plants or bred animals. Jews include people from every ethnic and religious origin on the planet. What makes us a group in common, whether we are born or become Jews, is adoption of the Jewish narrative of self and living and transmitting it in some meaningful way.

The word, “Jew,” took on severely negative connotations in various historical settings for reasons beyond the scope of this essay. As Jews in modern European states that were debating or offering Jews whole or partial civic equality struggled to attain those rights, many eschewed the word and adopted religiously-infused euphemisms, like “Israelites,” used in France; or, in German states, “Germans of the Mosaic persuasion” (meaning, people who worship tile?). Giving “Jews” citizenship might be problematic but the sanitized kind, called something else, were worthy at least of consideration.

It was a sorry and, as it turns out, useless evasion. Jew-hatred did not subside in modern Europe, including and even especially in rapidly modernizing, industrializing, liberal states. On the contrary, it morphed into new forms and took on new, vigorous life, something that perplexed many, Jews and non-Jews alike, who assumed that Jew-hatred derived from something Jews were doing or not doing– that is, that it was rational; and that if Jews changed their behavior, they could control and end the phenomenon. Such belief embodied an optimistic determinism that typified modernity: as people, Jews and non-Jews alike, became more enlightened, more rational, things would inevitably improve.

Theodor Herzl gave the lie to all that with his deliberately titled essay, Der Judenstaat, the translation of which is not, as is commonly conveyed, “the Jewish state,” but the in-your-face, “the Jew-State.” Herzl was saying, “We are Jews. We know it; they know it. Let’s cut the crap.”

The term, “anti-Semitism” was introduced into the lexicon by a Jew-hater, Wilhelm Marr, when he founded the “League of Anti-Semites” in Germany, in 1879. Marr was a racialist; he divided groups into racial entities and in particular, posited a deathly struggle between “Judentum” and “Deutschtum;” between an essential “Jewishness,” which posed a lethal threat to an essential “Germanness,” to Germany, and indeed, to the entire western world. “Jewishness” inhered in Jews—Semites; “Germanness” in Germans.

What, Marr wondered, explained not just the otherwise inexplicable survival of the Jews in their millennial exile, but their alleged triumph in modernity? The answer: semitism, a biological, inherited characteristic that no economic, linguistic, cultural, or even religious change—conversion—could erase.

Marr’s paranoid vision, with the core common to all Jew-hatred—that Jews are not weak, disadvantaged, or victimized but on the contrary, demonically strong and threatening—continues to this day, expressed in a baffling range of positions, including contradictory ones on the right and left. That individuals and groups that otherwise share nothing, indeed, are even anathema to one another, share Jew-hatred is nothing new, as historians of this phenomenon know, to our distress.

Marr and others across the map of Europe and Great Britain who shared his racialist, Jew-hating vision—Karl Eugen Duering, Ernest Renan, Alphonse Toussenel, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Eduard Drumont, Karl Lueger (elected mayor of Vienna in 1897), Adolf Stoecker (Court chaplain to Kaiser Wilhelm I), Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and a long list of others, including, in the US, Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin, and Cordell Hull, President Roosevelt’s Secretary of State– elaborated theories of nefarious characteristics that “Semites” were alleged to bear and argued that opposing this was entirely reasonable, indeed, imperative, in self-defense. Hence, “anti-Semitism.” Unlike pre-modern, irrational, religiously based Jew-hatred, “anti-Semitism” was scientific. Hence, the “ism.”

Should we perpetuate this profoundly prejudiced—racist– term in discussions of, and approaches to address, contemporary Jew-hatred?

Jew-haters hate Jews. They propagate ancient stereotypes and allegations that all, one way or the other, left or right, attribute the most malicious, malevolent, demonic evil to Jews.

“Anti-Semitism” is a euphemism, at best. A dressed-up term to avoid saying “Jews,” when this is about hatred of Jews. It is as if, back to that, there is something embarrassing or uncouth about the word, “Jew,” and this term makes the phenomenon—and Jews– fit for polite discussion. The people assailed and beaten on the streets and subways, whether in London, Paris, or Brooklyn; murdered in Toulouse and Montauban and Paris; in Buenos Aires, Pittsburg, Poway, or Jersey City, were Jews, attacked for being Jews.

The term “anti-Semitism” has become ubiquitous, unfortunately, with people having no notion of its origins or meaning repeating it, giving it respectability and, however unwittingly for some, propagating its racist underpinnings. Ceasing to hyphenate it and capitalize the “s” is some improvement but the term should be removed from use.

People who hate Jews are Jew-haters.

Wilhelm Marr and his kind, then or now, do not deserve perpetuation and respectability. The victims deserve honesty, at least.

It’s called Jew-hatred.

December 26, 2019 | 4 Comments »

Subscribe to Israpundit Daily Digest

Leave a Reply

4 Comments / 4 Comments

  1. From Yeshiva World News today. Whatever word you use to describe it, violence against and persecution of the Jewish people in the New York area, as in Europe is getting worse and worse. Time to end the semantic hassles and demand government action to put these people in jail

    December 27, 2019 11:10 am

    The following article was updated on Friday morning with two additional hate crimes:

    Not that anyone really cares anymore, since it’s clearly “open-season” on the Jews, but YWN has learned of yet another three hate crimes in honor of Chanukah.

    ATTACK NUMBER 6: On Thursday YWN reported of an attack happened on Avenue S and West 6th Street.

    Sources tell YWN that the victim is a Jewish woman (of the nearby Sephardic community), who was walking on Avenue S with her child, when a black woman walked up to her and said “We are coming after all you Jews”, and punched the victim in the face. The attacker used expletives that were omitted by YWN.

    Thankfully, a fast response from the NYPD’s 62 Precinct resulted in them apprehending this Jew-hater.

    But rest assured, she will soon be called “mentally unstable”, and released back into society without paying a price.

    ATTACK NUMBER 7: Crown Heights Shomrim tell YWN that at around 1:00AM Friday morning, a black female walked passed three Jewish females, and in an unprovoked incident, slapped the victims.

    Crown Heights Shomrim were called and followed the suspect from a safe distance until the NYPD arrived and arrested her at the corner of Kingston Avenue and Crown Street. She was charged with Aggravated Harassment (Hate Crime). As usual, the suspect has a past history of being mentally unstable.

    ATTACK NUMBER 8: A black male walked into Chabad Word Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway at around 7:00AM on Friday morning, and stated that he was “going to shoot up the place and kill everyone”. The suspect then fled 770 on foot and was followed down into the Utica Ave station. The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force are investigating both incident. The NYPD’s 71 Precinct and Crown heights Shomrim both have stepped up their patrols.

    YWN notes that Crown Heights Shomrim has launched a fundraiser on The Chesed Fund to raise desperately needed money to assist them in their 24-hour response that the community has come to rely on. With antisemitism on the rise and attacks becoming more frequent, your support is needed more than ever. Please click here to make a donation!

    In case anyone was wondering, it is NYC Mayor Deblasio – and ONLY him – who is solely responsible for this out of control violence against Jews. So far, all we see is tweets “condemning” and tweets saying that an “attack on Jews is an attack on all New Yorkers”.

    The days of blaming these attacks on President Trump and “white supremacists” are long over, as we all know that nearly none of the past 150 hate crimes were “Trump supporters”.

    YWN wrote the following on our Instagram page on Wednesday night (after the fifth hate crime): There have literally been hundreds of hate crimes. HUNDREDS. How many arrests were made? And of those few arrests, how many were prosecuted and actually put in jail? How about Mayor Deblasio enlighten his Jewish constituents and tell them the answer, which we already know: ZERO.

    It’s time to have the President send the Federal Government into NYC and start charging these anti-semites with federal hate crime charges, and throw them into jail for long sentences.

    [THE ATTACKS JUST WONT STOP: Boro Park, Williamsburg, Flatbush, Crown Heights! [VIDEOS OF ATTACKS]

    (YWN World Headquarters – NYC)

  2. Quibbling over the word or words used to describe it will not do anything to discourage antisemitism. Antisemitism (or “Anti-Semitism”) has long been the accepted phrase to describe Gentile racism and chauvinism. Best to use the established word for this evil phenomenon rather than hairsplitting over the best word to describe it. We Jews have long “excelled’ at semantic hair-splitting.The time is long overduee to focus on fighting this terrible evil rather than choosing the perfect word to describe it.

  3. Although the author makes a valid point, I disagree with her premise and conclusion. Jews and Judaism are inextricably linked to an ancient Semitic culture and faith; thus over centuries the term anti-Semitic has come to mean hatred of Jews and hatred of the culture and religion of Judaism by convention.

    Also, one needs to consider that if this term is discarded in favor of something else, such as Jew-hatred, it may become subject to misappropriation by another Semitic group such as the Arabs. The consequence would create more confusion and ultimately have the effect of diminishing the significance of Jew -hatred in the eyes of the general public. A case in point: The abandonment of the terms “Palestine” and “Palestinian” by the Jews, their subsequent misappropriation by
    the Arabs, and the resulting confusion over whether Jews are entitled to any part of Palestine!

  4. The time is coming when US Jews will ask “how did it happen?”
    What have we done to deserve this hate and persecution?
    It seems to me the next “Cristal Naht” is just around the corner in Europe and just being a Jew will be a crime. History repeats itself. Haters are on the march – be it
    religious or ethnic, just give them torches to march with.