Posted on February 1, 2005


Not long ago, when first I arrived unto this blogosphere, I wrote an article called “Anti-Semantic”–ostensibly a critique of apologists who fear that strong Pro-Palestinian commentary will be construed as Anti-Jewish and thus Anti-Semitic–one of the worse things one can be accused of in the modern western order. I argued that it was impossible for a Palestinian to be “anti-semitic” for Palestinians are semites, by the strictest sense of the word while European Jews (and let’s not kid ourselves, that’s who we’re really talking about when the term is mentioned) not truly being Hebrew, but descended from European Khazar converts to the religion, are not. I include here the definition of semite I provided in that article from Webster’s and the Encyclopedia Britannica, the two pillars of occidental know-it-all-ism:

1 : a member of any of a number of peoples of ancient southwestern Asia including the Akkadians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Arabs b : a descendant of these peoples
2 : a member of a modern people speaking a Semitic language

The term came to include Arabs, Akkadians, Canaanites, some Ethiopians, and Aramaen tribes including Hebrews. Semitic tribes migrated from the Arabian Penninsula beginning c. 2500 BC, to the Mediterranean coast, Mesopotamia, and the Nile River delta. In Phoenicia, they became seafarers. In Mesopotomia, they blended with the civilization of Sumer. The Hebrews settled at last with other Semites in Palestine.

Let us note here that the original waves of Jewish immigrants to Palestine up until the state was established in 1948, were European and that Arab Jews were imported only after the establishment of the state to increase Israel’s weak Jewish demography. European Jews did not fit the definition of the word Semite at that time, for they were not Hebrews, were not descended from Hebrews and spoke only European languages–Hebrew itself was dead in all but the most academic sense. The only true semites in Palestine at that time–according to the dictionary definition of the word–were the Palestinian Arabs, many of which were driven from their homes and sent into diasporic exile by colonizing Europeans who happened to be Jewish. When the architects of this new state imported thousands of Moroccan Jewish immigrants, they were maltreated by a population, that however Jewish it may have been, was still European in its world view. According to Israeli historian, Amnon Kapeliouk;

Networks of good schools should have set up in the high-density Moroccan areas and industries developed, instead of sending these new arrivals into agriculture, textiles or food, with low salaries and permanent threat of unemployment…the Moroccans were sent miles from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, close to the frontier or into Palestinian towns and villages emptied of their inhabitants. In short, they formed the lowest echelon in the social pyramid, just above Israel’s Palestinian citizens. And their traditional culture, influenced by that of the Arabs, broke down under the impact of the prevailing Ashkenazi culture.

If a practical definition of the word anti-semitic were put in place–one which reflects the fact that the term Semite in every other context refers primarily to Arabs not European Jews–the only anti-semites in Palestine at Israel’s birth were the European settlers who established the state, ghettoized Moroccan Jewish Semites and dispossessed Palestinian Muslim and Christian ones. But as someone recently suggested, the point I make is merely a semantic diversion–anti-semite has come to mean anti-Jewish and that is the true cultural meaning of the word, despite its schizoid etymology. Semantics, in part, focuses on the difference between the lexical meaning of a word, that is the dictionary definition, and its referential or structural meaning. After careful consideration I must admit that the word anti-semite has become synonymous with anti-Jewish. The root Semite here has been cleansed of its original meaning. Indeed, many Jewish pundits argue that the hyphenation should now be removed to do away with the natural confusion, marrying the i with the s, so that neither portion of the aggregate can be pulled out and placed into another context.

To add another layer of confusion and complexity to the polemic, the word has undergone yet another mutation since the creation of the Israeli state, so that now those who oppose Israel or Zionism, regardless of their feelings about non-Israeli Jews, can be referred to as anti-semitic. Webster’s (2002 edition) definition of anti-semitism now acknowledges the western cultural conflation of the word Jewish with Israeli. The third entry in the Webster’s definition of anti-semite defines it as:

3)sympathy for the opponents of Israel.

Just how did a word that for all intents and purposes means Arab get roped into a hyphenated vilification used in today’s public sphere almost exclusively against Arab people? The term anti-semite has recent roots–arising from infamous German hate-monger Wilhelm Marr’s attempts to shift hatred of Jews from a religious model into a purely biological one in the late 19th century. It was an era of burgeoning hope based on the belief that scientific inquiry would solve all of man’s problems, including, Marr believed, the difficulty of defending faith-based bigotry. Such religious prejudice was considered unenlightened at the time, which provoked Marr to justify his hatred of Jews on biological grounds–by erroneously aligning Jews with Semitic peoples. When Marr proudly stepped into history to label himself the world’s first anti-semite, there was no confusion as to who he meant and what he was talking about; he hated European Jews, a hatred he justified by conflating them with true Semites, the race-based hatred of which required no justification.

The confused character of the word has survived into the modern day. We know instinctively that an anti-semite does not hate Semites, that is Arabs and other ethnic groups from certain parts of Asia, but Jews of European descent. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the word earned currency and utility in isolating opponents of Israel’s colonialist policies in Palestine, but harbored an obvious weakness. There was a much larger group of humans known as Semites who could not be included in this hyphenated term, indeed, must not be.

It has become quite a compelling propaganda tactic to relegate all criticism of Israel, especially when it comes from Arabs, to anti-semitic feelings, thus blurring what would otherwise be a classic example of colonialism and apartheid. Israeli Jews now use a word originally meant to negatively racially classify them against the group whose race provided the basis for that racial classification. Only the absurd nature of the US-fueled conflict in Palestine could produce such an upside-down situation with the accompanying non-sequiturs. For example, one may use the word against Jews who are not Israeli and, indeed have “sympathy for the opponents of the state”, which causes a virtual moebius strip of anti-semitism. Rabbi David Weiss, a representative of one such group, Neturei Karta, once told the notorious “opponent” of Israel, Louis Farrakhan that “Zionism is an abomination in the eyes of God”. Webster’s second entry for the word anti-semitism states:

2) opposition to Zionism.

Incredibly, this makes Rabbi Weiss an anti-semite, and of one of the worst kind since he fits two definitions out of three.

Obviously, the term anti-semite, as it exists today, presents a problem for anyone desiring to enter into the public discourse concerning the legitimacy of Israel and the rights of Palestinians; the terminology warps pro-Palestinian discourse in the eyes of the West and its zealous use by Israelis has rendered it meaningless in regards to Jews who are hated not because they support the dispossession of the Palestinian people (and anyone who supports such activity should prepare themselves to be hated), but because they are simply Jewish [and, in this latter group, there are a disturbingly large number, feigning sympathy for Palestinians merely as a pretext to stroke their anti-semitism in public].

Therefore, I suggest that Arab activists, speakers, writers, orators and thinkers avoid this situation by being pro-active and using the word Pro-semite in reference to opposition of Israeli policies and Zionism. It is at least a more accurate usage and it would give others the impetus to create terminology that recognizes that Jews are not Semites and have no claim over Palestine, Zionism is not Judaism and Jews are not necessarily Zionists, and Israel is but a state, not the kingdom of god made manifest. Freed, from using an inside-out word invented by a man who hated Jews, a word mutated beyond even its own perverse meaning by injustice and racism, Jews could finally set out to create their own identity as citizens of the world. That, at least, would make sense, even if nothing else in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict does.