Item One: An article under the above heading, carried by a provincial Scottish newspaper, the Dumfries and Galloway Standard (25 February 1939) observed:
‘The term “Anti-Semitism” should, on the face of it, mean opposition to Semites in general. The Arabs are as Semitic as the Jews, both claiming descent from Abraham, and thus from Shem. But our pure-blooded Nordic does not seem to have any quarrel with the Bedouin. What is usually meant by the word is a hostile attitude on the part of Aryans towards Jews, both socially and commercially. For lack of a more exact term we shall have to use it in this narrow sense….’
(The article then gave examples from across the centuries, dating back to Biblical times, of antipathy towards Jews.)
Item Two. On 29 January 2014 in the heavily Orthodox Jewish district of Stamford Hill, in London, a certain Mr Rashal Miah indulged in a spate of road rage against the Orthodox Jewish driver of a school bus filled with young children. To quote from tweets by the Jewish self-help/neighbourhood watch organisation Shomrim, which assisted the victim, Miah – at the wheel of a Mercedes – “was on the wrong side of the road attempting to overtake congested traffic” when the bus driver asked him to reverse his vehicle. ‘Mr Miah exited his car … and said “Shut the f**k up, you f**king Jew, I will slit your throat.”’ Miah ‘referred to the victim as “Yehudi” (Jew) and said “I’m going to kill all Jews.”’
Two years later, and Uber driver Miah’s got his come-uppance.
“I hope it doesn’t indicate some underlying prejudice. If this was the other way round and Muslims were being insulted I have a good feeling you would feel strongly. You need to understand that before you open your mouth.” With these words, it’s reported elsewhere, a Crown Court judge last week rebuked Miah before passing sentence on him: a 26-week prison term, suspended, plus 15 days of anger management classes and 100 hours of community service.
The bus driver was satisfied with the verdict, Shomrim tweeting: ‘Victim: "I welcome the sentence, it sends out a strong message to anti-semites that Prejudice and Bigotry is not acceptable"’.
Item Three. The current issue (4 March 2016) of the Australian Jewish News reports:
‘Holocaust denial reared its ugly head on campus on the first day of the new university semester on Monday. Flyers claiming that “Holocaust studies is replete with nonsense, if not sheer fraud” were placed on hundreds of cars in the University of Melbourne’s University Square carpark. The flyer said that the Holocaust was “the greatest swindle of all time” and that “in war, truth is the first casualty” before pointing people to an Australian website that is rife with Holocaust denial content…
B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich [who’s an academic at the university, by the way] said that the flyers are “utterly sickening”, “repugnant” and “nothing more than anti-Semitic tracts” that sought to target and poison the minds of students on the first day of semester. This is an alarming escalation in anti-Jewish hostility and is a cause for concern,” Abramovich said….’
Question: What have these three items in common, aside from the fact that they deal with instances of antisemitism?
Answer: They all spell antisemitism (and its derivative adjective) with a hyphen. One of the examples cited writes of “anti-semites” while the other two write of “Anti-Semitism”/“anti-Semitism”.
Further question: Does that matter?
Answer: Yes, it most certainly does. It implies that there is an entity or movement called “Semitism” that it is feasible to be antipathetic to – rather like “Islamism”, say, which certainly justifies opposition of an “anti-Islamist” kind – when there is, in fact, no such thing.
Back in 1989 – fifty years after my first example above – in the Newsletter of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, Shmuel Almog wrote a persuasive piece headed “What’s in a Hyphen?” in which he pointed out that the terms “Semitic” and “Aryan” were originally coined to describe linguistic groups, and that the extension of those words to supposed genetic groups is mistaken and unconscionable. Inter alia, he wrote:
‘A seemingly minor point crops up from time to time but grows in importance the more you reflect upon it. Should one write “anti-Semitism” with a hyphen or “antisemitism” as one word? What is the importance of such a technical question and why should anyone, apart from type-setters and proof-readers, worry about it?....
Let me start at the beginning: When did the word 'antisemitism' make its first appearance? It is generally attributed to Wilhelm Marr, who was called by the Israeli historian Moshe Zimmermann "The Patriarch of Antisemitism". Marr coined the term in the 1870s to distinguish between old-time Jew-hatred and modern, political, ethnic, or racial opposition to the Jews. This term made great advances and soon became common usage in many languages. So much so, that it applied not just to the modern brand of Jew-hatred but – against all logic – was attached to all kinds of enmity toward Jews, past and present.
Thus we now say “antisemitism”, even when we talk about remote periods in the past, when one had no inkling of this modern usage. Purists no longer cry out in dismay against such anachronistic practice; it is currently established procedure to use “antisemitism'” for all types of Jew-hatred.
Let's go back to the hyphen then. What's the difference? If you use the hyphenated form, you consider the words “Semitism”, “Semite”, “Semitic”as meaningful…
It is obvious then that “anti-Semitism” is a non-term, because it is not directed against so-called “Semitism”. If there is any substance to the term, it is only to denote a specifically anti-Jewish movement. Antisemitism is a generic term which signifies a singular attitude to a particular group of people. As the late philosopher Zvi Diesendruck pointed out, "There has never been coined a standing term for the merely negative attitude" to any other people in history. Only antisemitism; only against Jews.
So the hyphen, or rather its omission, conveys a message; if you hyphenate your “anti-Semitism”, you attach some credence to the very foundation on which the whole thing rests. Strike out the hyphen and you will treat antisemitism for what it really is – a generic name for modern Jew-hatred which now embraces this phenomenon as a whole, past, present and – I am afraid – future as well. ‘
Yes, a persuasive piece. It certainly made me drop the hyphen, as did numerous other individuals, and organisations too.
Persuading publishers is another thing: it is disheartening to submit a manuscript in which antisemitism is spelled the “Almog way” only to find the hyphen inserted in the proofs. Arguing with publishers is usually to no avail: publishing houses have their style guides, and they generally stick to them.
Try spelling antisemitism and derivatives without a hyphen in a Microsoft Word document and a lack of uniformity applies: anti-Semite (that’s Microsoft Word changing what I’ve just typed); Antisemitism (that spelling got through unscathed!); antisemitism (ditto); anti-Semites (Microsoft Word meddling again!); antisemitic (that’s been dealt an underscore “wavy line” implying a misspelling).
They, like publishers and the general public, need to be politely educated.
But how is such education to be effected when we see even Jewish journals – the Australian Jewish News is just one case in point – steadfastly clinging to the hyphen, and invariably changing “antisemitism” in readers’ letters and op-eds to “anti-Semitism”. That upper case S is especially grating; it appears to emphasise the validity of the absurd non-existent “Semitism”.
And, as Item One above unconsciously foreshadowed, it plays into the hands of antisemites.
Time and again, “anti-Zionists” on social media and elsewhere love to taunt Jews and supporters of Israel with the observation that Jews are misusing the term antisemitism, abrogating it to themselves when it is just as descriptive of Arabs/Palestinians, because – so the by now familiar theme runs – they are Semites too (optional addition, depending on how anti-Jewish the writer is: and as a matter of fact the Arabs/Palestinians are far more justified in calling themselves Semites than the Eastern European invaders who as everybody knows are really Khazars and have no links to Palestine at all.) And of course the corollary to this is: How can the Arabs/Palestinians be antisemitic when they are Semites too?
Jews and other “Zionists” – even Israelis themselves – have long since undermined the pro-Israel cause by accepting the term “Palestinians” when “Palestinian Arab” would do just as well as a nod to those who, until that wily old villain Arafat and his mates got sly and slick over rebranding, were generally known as Arabs.
It’s too late to turn back the clock and consign the term “antisemitism,” with its propensity for mischief, to the dustbin. Nevertheless, employing the term “Jew-hatred” more often, along with “Jew-hater”, “Jew-haters” and (as Dvir Abramovich does above) “anti-Jewish” would help to take the wind out of the antisemites’ sails.
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