Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Wilhelm Marr 1819-1904
Antisemitism should be spelled without the hyphen. It’s something I’ve known for years, even if auto-correct just won’t get the message. Neither will the media, of course, or even most dictionaries.
“What’s the difference?” you might well ask. “It’s just a little mark on the page. Meaningless.”
Ah, but it’s not.
The concept of “antisemitism” (without the dash, thank you) and the term, were introduced by Wilhelm Marr when he founded the Die Antisemitenliga, the League of Antisemites, in 1879. Materials put out by the league often employed the word “antisemitism.” The league, in fact, was the first popular political movement based solely on anti-Jewish sentiment. Marr’s famous and oft-reprinted tract, The Victory of Judaism Over Germandom, made the claim that “the Jewish spirit and Jewish consciousness have overpowered the world.”
Statutes of the Antisemitism League flanked by two of Marr's antisemitic tracts
Marr wore the title “antisemite” as a badge of honor. From the perspective of Marr and his colleagues, to be an antisemite was to be “woke.” But then, politics with a specifically anti-Jewish flavor and focus were big all over Europe in the years leading up to the 20th century.
The word “antisemitism” had its roots in an 18th-century treatise on languages which analyzed the differences between Aryan and Semitic languages. The terminology that was used led to the false assumption that there were racial groups corresponding to these two groups of languages. The minds of the time made a leap so that “Jew” became synonymous with “semite” in the lexicon of the day.
The interesting thing here is that there was already the perfectly good expression Judenhass, or “Jew hate,” in the popular lexicon. But Marr wanted to make his hatred about race, rather than religion. The new term he coined avoided altogether the question of religion. “Antisemitism” also sounded more scientific, more intellectual, therefore more credible and more acceptable. Also, people just liked it. So the word “antisemitismus” spread like wildfire as a new way to speak about hating the Jews.
But the thing is, there’s no such thing as a “semite” or even a “semitic” people. The terms were invented by some historians in the 1770s to refer to people who speak Semitic languages But in truth, there are only Semitic languages. There is no race or people that are “semites.”
In other words, when you spell the word with a hyphen, the word makes no sense. Because you can’t be against something that doesn’t exist. And there’s no such thing as a semite.
The other problem is that people say that Arabs are semites, too, therefore Arabs can’t be antisemites, because they can’t be against themselves.
Except there’s no such thing as a semite.
The term antisemite, you see, is standalone. It only means “someone who hates Jews.” And that is all it was ever intended to mean.
Antisemitism, as a term, is based on racist claptrap. The word was lifted from the field of linguistics to give weight to the idea of hating the Jews (and only the Jews) as a race (which they aren’t). The pseudoscientific sound of the term gave it loft and validity. Which is stupid.
To be clear: Jews aren’t semites. Neither are Arabs.
Antisemites hate Jews, not Arabs.
So when you use the hyphen you’re unwittingly espousing turn of the century European racism. You’re also ignorant of history. If Marr had meant to include Arabs he would have spelled the word he invented with a hyphen to include them.
Historians, at least those who care about academic rigor, are careful to spell the word without the hyphen. But the media continues to hyphenate the word. And spell-check and the auto-correct function of Word just won’t get the message. Historian Shmuel Almog, in fact, wrote about the problem with the hyphen all the way back in 1989:
“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.”


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