We’ve grown so used to it, anti-Semitism literally trips of the tongue as if it were the most natural of words to encapsulate hatred of Jews. But why?
The first use of the term is believed to have been in response to Joseph Renan (1823–1892), an expert on Semitic languages and civilisations. He claimed that the Semitic mind was limited by dogmatism and lacked a cosmopolitan conception of civilisation and that the Semitic race was inferior to the Aryan race. This form of racism was particularly promoted by Heinrich von Treitshike, famous for coining the phrase “the Jews are our misfortune” and who used the term “Semitic” almost synonymously with “Jewish”.
So why, given its recent etymology, its link to discredited theories of race, and its promotion by the enemies of Jews, is it now applied retrospectively to anti-Jew/anti-Hebrew/anti-Israelite history without any question as to its appropriateness? And, more importantly, why do we continue to embrace this word now?
Do you know any Jews who introduce themselves as Semitic? Do you know any haters who use Semitism as a current term of abuse? Is it just that we have got so used to it that we have adopted it as legitimate?
Or perhaps we just find the alternative terms too uncomfortable to get our tongue around and, anyway, would there be any agreement as to which term to use? Anti-Judaism appears to focus too much on religion. Anti-Jewish sounds a bit more inclusive but if we must have an -ism version, anti-Jewishism is not easy on the ear. So how about anti-Jewism?
It has the advantage of being clear as to its meaning – after all how many people anymore know what Semitic is supposed to mean? Furthermore, it cuts the ground from those who wish to claim that Arabs can’t be anti-Semitic as they are surely Semites too.
Jewism is inclusive of people who identify as Jews or may be identified by others as Jews without needing to specify religious, ethnic, cultural or peoplehood definitions. OK, changing terminology will be a hassle, but won’t it be worth it to have a term with which we can truly identify, one we choose and not one foisted on us by our enemies?