That’s right, I said it. I’m tired of hearing people complain about “anti-semitism”. I’ve had enough, and it needs to stop. As soon as is humanly possible. Did I make you mad? Are you getting ready to post angry comments calling me a traitor or a self hating Jew? Slow down, it isn’t for the reasons you might think. I’m sick of hearing people complaining about “anti-semitism”, because it’s a soft, weak phrase. It’s sterile, clinical and it doesn’t even come close to doing justice to thousands of years of suffering and persecution. For such a historically creative group of people, we Jews certainly haven’t done a great job of choosing a name for this particular aspect of our existence. That’s what “anti-semitism” is. It is an indelible aspect of our shared history and cultural experience. We wouldn’t be who we are as a people now without having been hated, and that is one of histories greatest tragedies. That being said, in 2016, enough is enough.
To the vast majority of Jews, hearing the term “anti-semitism” conjures up memories of troubling or painful personal experiences. We know exactly what it means, because we’ve experienced that adversity and mistreatment first hand. What about people who are on the outside looking in? What about people who haven’t made up their mind about the Jewish people, or those who just aren’t that familiar with our history or experiences? They hear “anti-semitism”, and it sounds like something that someone pulled out of a sociology textbook. It doesn’t have anything to do with them, because they have never, and will never be targeted by it and so they aren’t mindful of it. In a way, it whitewashes hatred and bias against Jews by using a term that doesn’t have much to do with Jews at all. In fact, the person who coined the term, Wilhelm Marr was a Jew hater himself. Here’s a brief background.
Wilhelm Marr was born in central Germany in 1819. He went to school, lived a normal 19th century life and eventually found himself employed in a Jewish owned finance firm. Wilhelm was not a particularly agreeable individual, and was fired from his job. Guess what he did then. He blamed Jews. Not the individuals who fired him, but the Jews as an entity. Similar to how people today claim that “the Jews” control the media, or “the Jews” control the banks. Anyway, around the same time, in the mid 1840s, Marr began associating with radical leftist and proto-communist groups that were gaining traction in the German states (Germany had not yet unified into a single nation-state, and wouldn’t until the 1870’s). When the Congress of Vienna failed to result in a unified Germany, he once again began to blame the Jews, claiming that they had no place in the discussions because they were not true Germans. He continued to expand his theories and anti-Jew rhetoric which culminated in the writing of Der Weg zum Siege des Germanenthums über das Judenthum (The Way to Victory of Germanism over Judaism). That sounds like a familiar sentiment doesn’t it? Reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s mentality right? So where’s the problem? “Anti-semite” was used as a term to denounce the people who thought like he did right? Wrong. Right around the time that he released his little manifesto, Wilhelm Marr founded the “League of Anti-semites”. “Anti-semite” is a simple descriptor. The original Anti-semites were proud and dedicated to the cause of “defeating the Jewish threat to German greatness”, and here we are, using their word. Marr eventually got his act together, realized he was foolish and wrong, apologized to German Jewish communities, renounced his previous works and spoke out against them. Sadly, the damage had already been done, the sentiments were already out in the open, and the ideas eventually piqued the interest of everyone’s least favorite German mad man.
We need our own term to use in place of “anti-semitism”. What does it say about our self respect that we are using a term that originated from proud, Jew hating Germans? What does it say about how seriously we take the problem that we use a phrase that isn’t even ethnically exclusive? After all, the term Semite refers to a group of cultures and ethnic groups that spoke the Semitic languages, and that includes Arabs and the Druze among others. We need to rebrand the hatred that is directed at us to something that stirs up the people that could be allies. The people who don’t know enough yet to have an opinion. There are plenty of good people out there that, when they hear something like “anti-Judaic”, or even just “Jew hate”, will associate that with other forms of easily identifiable racial, ethnic and religious biases. So that’s what I propose. Stop using a word that once made hateful Germans proud and choose something that emphasizes exactly who is being targeted. We are Jews. There are plenty of people that hate us, and try to delegitimize our concerns and issues. Let’s not help them by using a word that makes it easier to dismiss Jew hatred. We are no longer the stereotype of the weak, compliant diaspora Jew. Thanks to the strength of the state of Israel, and our return to our homeland, we are once again able to defend ourselves like the Maccabees of old. Our brothers and sisters in Israel do just that. It’s about time that we in the Diaspora started doing the same, if not with the force of guns and bombs, then with the force behind our words.