Friday, July 17, 2020

Defining Semite, Semitic, and anti-Semitism/antisemitism

There has long been confusion about the correct definitions of Semite, Semitic, and anti-Semitism/antisemitism. Here are the correct definitions of these words.

Merriam-Webster defines Semite as:

1 a: 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.  

Merriam-Webster defines Semitic as:

1: of, relating to, or constituting a subfamily of the Afro-Asiatic language family that includes Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, and Amharic. 
2: of, relating to, or characteristic of the Semites

Merriam-Webster defines anti-Semitism as:

1: hostility toward, or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.

It is important to note two things:

1: Being a Semite has nothing to do with skin color.
2: Although anti-Semitism and antisemitism are both considered formally correct spellings, the latter should probably be preferred to avoid the false narrative that antisemitism means anything other than Jew-hatred.

In 1879, German author Wilhelm Marr used the term anti-Semitism specifically to refer to his hatred of the Jewish people, and his opposition to what he declared was a Jewish infiltration of German society. Marr founded the League of Antisemites, the first German organization dedicated to fighting the alleged threat that Jews posed to Germany. The League of Antisemites advocated the forced removal of all Jews from Germany. Marr popularized the term anti-Semitism as a synonym for "Jew-hatred."

Nazi Germany's Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels publicly declared in 1938, "The German people is anti-Semitic. It has no desire to have its rights restricted or to be provoked in the future by parasites of the Jewish race." He was not referring to Semites in general, or to anyone other than Jewish people. The word and the concept of antisemitism have nothing to do with the broader definition of Semites or with skin color; the word and the concept apply specifically toward and against the Jewish people and only the Jewish people. To suggest otherwise is to willfully deny documented historical facts.

The resurgence of antisemitism in recent times is frightening and disturbing. The mainstream acceptance of antisemitism is disheartening. Mitch Albom wrote an outstanding column about this: Anti-Semitic posts--and tepid reactions--should enrage us. The headline writer's awkward phrasing did Albom no favors, but the column itself is right on point.

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