Amidst the past couple of weeks of polemic vitriol and hyperbolic shouting, from those who imagine themselves as champions of the Palestinian people, one oft-repeated talking point continues to echo: “Palestinians can’t be Antisemitic because they are Semites too!”
On the surface, this seems a reasonable enough assertion… right?
Palestinians are, after all, Arabs. Arabs are, after all, Semitic-language-speakers. It should be noted that this is actually all Semitic means academically. There is no “Semitic Race” and few intellectually actually believe that the entire planet is descended from three literally patriarchs: Shem, Cham and Yafet.
So bearing this definition in mind, what is wrong with asserting that Palestinians are Semites too (read: Semitic-language-speakers), and thus are immune from Antisemitism. Does “Antisemitic” refer to hatred of all Semitic peoples… or just Jews?
To preface this discussion, I must state that it would be a sophomoric and uninformed assumption to imagine that I am anti-Palestinian.
In matter of fact, I love the Palestinian people and want peace and equal rights for them. This, however, means hating Hamas, which is a terrorist cult holding them captive. Most Gazans I have met in Gaza have told me they hate Hamas, want new elections which Hamas will not allow, and yet are afraid to protest them.
“If you lived in a mafia-controlled neighborhood in New York, would you protest against the mafia out in the streets?” This was one poignant question posted to me in Gaza City, back in 2014, when I traveled there for humanitarian and journalistic purposes.
My love for the Palestinian and Gazan people thus means that I hate the Hamas regime and want to see them removed from power over the Gazan people.
History of the Term
The primary historical problem with the thesis that “Arabs are Semites so they can’t be Antisemitic” is that Antisemitism has historically, and originally, meant the hatred of Jews specifically. That is because this was the Semitic-speaking background of the group present in large numbers in Europe when the term was coined in Germany. That is to say, Antisemites did not have a problem with Arabs in Germany, they had a problem with Jews and used the term accordingly.
The term has never historically been used to refer to hatred of Arabs. Adolf Hitler was a great lover of the Arab – and Palestinian – peoples, and explained as much in the introduction to the second edition of the Arabic translation of Mein Kampf.
Don’t believe me?
Okay, pull up a seat, it’s time for a brief history lesson…
Hitler’s Evolving Love For [Using] the Palestinian People
As time went on during the reign of the genocidal Third Reich, the Nazis found themselves in close alliance with der Großmufti von Jerusalem. Hitler in fact, came to fund the Mufti and his so-called “Arab Revolts” throughout the 1930s.
What Jeffrey Herf calls a “blizzard of memos,” in Nazi Propagnada for the Arab World, were sent from the Nazi leadership trying “to convince Arabs that the Nuremberg race laws were not aimed at those Semites.” German officials thus had the new, difficult task of clarifying to themselves and to their Palestinian Arab allies, “how an officially racist government could appeal to Arabs and Muslims.” In the Arab Higher Committee’s Documentary Record, we read Hitler’s initial reply from March of 1941, before the subsequent invitation of the Mufti to Berlin. Hitler’s favorable disposition towards the Arabs, contrary to the general German prejudices, is clear in the letter:
Our view is that Arabs, who possess an ancient culture and have proved their administrative, judiciary and military maturity are capable of self-government. Germany recognizes the full independence of the Arab countries, or where this has not yet been attained, their right to it… Germany, traditionally friendly to the Arabs, and in accordance with the desires expressed to your private secretary, is ready to cooperate with you and to give you all possible military and financial help required…
Egyptian and Iranians inquired about “the meaning of the concept artverwandt,” meaning “racially kindred.” The Egyptians wanted guaranteed protection of German-Egyptian marriages and the Persians – of the newly named “Iran” – wanted official recognition of their “Aryan” status under the Nuremberg laws. While there was ambivalence towards these requests – Iranians being told that in spite of their heritage they could not be recognized as pure Aryans “lock, stock and barrel” – it was explained that they and the Arab peoples were “no worse off” than non-German European nations. The Muslim world would be safe under the reign of a global Reich.
Moreover, Herf documents that “German racial legislation permitted marriage between Germans and non-Jewish Arabs and Muslims.” German laws – he quotes – did “not regard foreign peoples as of less value than the German people.” Conversely, they honored “the peculiarities of alien peoples to the same extent as they place value on the preservation of German distinctiveness,” In the spring and summer of1936, “Nazi officials had reassured Arab diplomats that Nazi ideology and policy were directed against the Jews only, not non-Jewish Semites, which they explained had never referred to anyone other than Jews in German parlance. Nazism viewed Arabs and Muslims as different from the Germans but, in clear contrast to the racial hierarchy presented in Mein Kampf, not as racially inferior.
Herf writes, that “at least some Arab and Persian diplomats” had begun to incorporate the lingo of Nazism and “had become accustomed to thinking about peoples and nations in the racist categories emerging from the National Socialist regime.” In spite of the Reich’s pledges, some of the language in Mein Kampf would prove problematic in courting the Arab and Iranian-Aryan world.
To intercept this potential problem, Fritz Grobba, ambassador to Iraq (1932-39), serving in the German legation in Kabul, Afghanistan (1923) urged a revision of certain passages. Grobba opined that a translation of the book into Arabic “would be met by Arab readers” throughout the Middle East “with great interest,” so long as a modification of certain passages, which detailed racial hierarchy, could be made “in ways that correspond to the sensitivities of the race conscious Arabs.” He suggested “replacing the term ‘anti-Semitic’ with ‘anti-Jewish’ and ‘anti-Semitism’ with ‘anti-Judaism’,” a trend which has stuck in the rhetoric of the region today.
Furthermore, Grobba suggested a disclaimer for the Arabic translation, which was published in 1936, and remains a popular best-seller in the Arab Middle East. “German racial legislation does not want to pass judgment on the quality and worth of other peoples and other races,” he offered to Hitler. The Nazi Fuehrer “had agreed to a translation” with these edits, “modify[ing] his racist arguments” as well as deleting “passages bound to offend Arabs and Muslims.”
Ottob von Hentig, the head of Office VII, which dealt with the Near and Middle East in the Political Department of the Foreign Ministry, sought to render a version of the text for “educated circles of the Arabic-speaking peoples” as the first attempt at translation – by Arabist Bernard Moritz – still managed to let numerous problematic passages escape. “If a man of such cultivation and education,” versed in Arabic and a native German, could be found in Berlin, Hentig fantasized, then “a truly good Arabic translation of the Fuehrer’s work would have great propagandistic value,” and “would meet with extensive sympathy in the whole Arabic-speaking world from Morocco to India.” He asserted that the “tone of the book” should reflect one which “every Muslim understands,” recommending that “sacred flavor” of the Qur’ān itself be perverted for their aims. He insisted that the completed text be reinterpreted by “a scholar of the Koran who will give it the sacred ton which will be understood and valued in the whole Islamic world,” in order “to make connections between National Socialism and the traditions of Islam.”
Parallel to these efforts at the Nazification of the Middle East, Ḥajj Amīn explained to Hitler that the German leader was becoming increasingly “admired by the entire Arab world.” The Arabs, he explained, “were Germany’s natural friends because they had the same enemies as had Germany, namely, the English, the Jews, and the Communists.” The Arabs, the Muftī explained, “were therefore prepared to cooperate with Germany with all their hearts and stood ready to participate in the war, not only negatively by the commission of acts of sabotage and the instigation of revolts, but also positively by the formation of an Arab Legion” to fight alongside the German armies. In the coming years, as he set up the Bosnian-Muslim Handschar SS division, Ḥajj Amīn would make good on his promise while still in Europe. 
Unlike Hitler’s German, Austrian, and European allies, Ḥajj Amīn’s journey towards agreement with Hitler began in non-European traditions. His hatred of Jews, Communists, the British, and the Americans began in Neo-Salafīsm as well as the legacy of oppression towards Jews which was the trademark of certain strains of Islamicate thought. The meeting between the Muftī and Hitler on November 28, 1941, was not a “clash of civilizations” but rather a convergence from different starting points.
The Nazi propaganda, emanating from the Reich, deliberately targeted the Arab Middle East due to its own legacy of persecuting Jews. In the broadcast entitled “England’s Betrayal of the Arabs in Palestine,” on December 24, 1940, Germany composed the myth that “from pre-Islamic times” to that very day, Palestine was “an undivided part of Arab land” and that “its inhabitants consisted of a pure race Arabs” (reinrassigen Araber). The Nazis unhistorically asserted of Umar’s liberation of Palestine, the Jewish population “finally had to leave.” In fact, however, Palestinian Jews of the seventh century called Umar “the liberator” and “a God-send from our brethren of the Children of Ishmael.” The broadcast continued that from that conquest the Jews spread out to “stir up disorder and harm elsewhere in the world.” Like many of the broadcasts, this example relied heavily on Islamicate Anti-Semitic imagery, emanating from the Abbassid-Era Anti-Jewish literature in the aftermath of the second Hijrah century Jewish revolts. “The broadcast concluded with a verse from the Koran: “Memory serves the believers.”
Due to the root word “Semite,” the term “Antisemitism” is popularly prone to being invoked as a misnomer by those who interpret it as referring to racist hatred directed at all “Semitic people.” This includes, but is not limited to, those who speak Semitic languages, such as Arabs, Assyrians, and Arameans. As we have seen, however, his usage is erroneous. The compound word antisemitismus – “antisemitism” – was first used in print in Germany in 1879 as a “scientific-sounding term” for Judenhass – literally “Jew-Hatred” and it has since been used to refer to anti-Jewish sentiment alone.
Long after penning Mein Kampf, as we have seen, Hitler “evolved” in his attitudes towards Arabs, and found great appreciation for them through his friendship with the Mufti. To suggest that Antisemitism refers to hatred of all Semitic-language-speaking people is ill-informed at the very least, and willfully-ignorant or deliberately deceptive at worst.
Now that you know, help get the word out and educate!
To learn more about Der Grossmufti von Jerusalem: The Activities of the Nazi Palestinian and the Origins of Jewish Antipathy towards Arabs, click the link to purchase a full study of the topic, on the real originator of the Israel-Palestinian conflict(s).
 Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propagnada for the Arab World. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009) 32
 AHC 22
 Herf 21-22
 Ibid 23-24
 Ibid 24
 Iran’s name change coinciding with this period and the adoption of Nazi terminology in the Middle East.
 Herf 24
 Ibid 25
 Herf 76
 The Palestinian population soon came to see themselves as descended from the indigenous Canaanite period, “Arabized after the Arab invasion of Palestine” in 638 CE. (Mattar 24). There is, however, no evidence that Canaanite societies had continued to exist throughout the millennia. Whereas we have retained communities and writings from Samaritan alternative communities from the Second Temple Era, we see no references to Canaanites, their writings or their people throughout the ages. This belief then, must be regarded as utterly dubious, though it reflects a Palestinian self-understanding that was emerging with the new nationalism.
 A Jewish document widely circulated during the first century of Arab rule described Islam as “an act of God’s mercy.” S.D. Goitein, Jews and Arabs, 63 Contrary to commenting upon supposed Islamic Genocide against the Jews of Yathrib, contemporary Jews of Palestine spoke appreciatively of the coming of Umar’s forces to the Holy Land. (1965), II, 501. Cf. T. W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam (London, 1913), 132; and S. D. Goitein, Jews and Arabs, Their Contacts Through the Ages (New York: Schocken Books, 1964), 62 ff pp 8 R. Shimon bar Yochai, writing during the period of the Arab conquest, described `Umar (the one primarily responsible for launching the conquest), as “a lover of Israel who repaired their breaches. He went on to insist that “The Holy One is only bringing the Kingdom of Ishmael in order to help you from the wicked one (Christians).” S. W. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (New York, 1952), III, 93
 Herf 49, footnote 43
 Bein, Alex (1990). The Jewish Question: Biography of a World Problem. Translated by Harry Zohn. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. p. 595
 Lipstadt, Deborah (2019). Antisemitism: Here and Now. pp. 22-25; Chanes, Jerome A. (2004). Antisemitism: a Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO p. 150; Rattansi, Ali (2007). Racism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 4-5
 Johnston, William (1983). The Austrian Mind: An Intellectual and Social History, 1848–1938. University of California Press. p. 27; Laqueur, Walter (2006). The Changing Face of Antisemitism: From Ancient Times to the Present Day (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. p 21
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