It’s time to recognize the term “anti-Semitism” as a misnomer

israel palestine peace1

This morning I woke up to two news reports in my mailbox that indicated two things to me:

  1. Bigotry against Jews can no more nor less be distinguished from bigotry against any other group of people or religion. Sectarianism by any other name is sectarianism.
  2. The insistence on making bigotry against Jews (in its sense of sectarianism) a separate or unique class of discrimination or hatred altogether, one that is given a special term and that involves controversial and false definitions, is designed to play into the hands of Zionists and neo-Nazis.

Zionist desperation to criminalize anti-Zionist criticism of Israel by legalizing false definitions of anti-Semitism is a measure of how far the term “anti-Semitism” has traveled as a misnomer.

The first news item is from The New York Times – an opinion piece(Opinion | Anti-Zionism Isn’t the Same as Anti-Semitism) by Michelle Goldberg, in which she says,

The conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is a bit of rhetorical sleight-of-hand that depends on treating Israel as the embodiment of the Jewish people everywhere. Certainly, some criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, but it’s entirely possible to oppose Jewish ethno-nationalism without being a bigot. Indeed, it’s increasingly absurd to treat the Israeli state as a stand-in for Jews writ large, given the way the current Israeli government has aligned itself with far-right European movements that have anti-Semitic roots.

The second news item comes from the Lobby Watch of the Electronic Intifada, in which Asa Winstanley, an investigative reporter, writes:

A new European Union declaration could make it harder to criticize Israel as a racist state without being dubbed an anti-Semite.

Politicians in Brussels on Thursday rubber-stamped the document.

The declaration asks all EU governments to “endorse the non-legally binding working definition of anti-Semitism employed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.”

The move, passed by EU member states’ home affairs ministers, has already been condemned by a number of Israeli and French academics.

The declaration was spearheaded by Austria, whose coalition government includes ministers who are members of a neo-Nazi party.

The term “anti-Semitism” to refer to animus against all Jews is a misnomer. By all accounts, it was coined or popularized by Friedrich Wilhelm Adolph Marr in 1879, a radical writer and politician, described in the title of his first biography as “The Patriarch of Anti-Semitism” and founder of the first “Anti-Semitic League”, which he formed in order to agitate against Jewish emancipation in Germany. “Anti-Semitism”, as Marr coined it, referred specifically to the anti-Jewish campaigns in central Europe at that time, and not to bigotry or hatred against all Jews, as the term today connotes.

As I write in Anti-Semitism Is Not the Issue; Palestine Is,

As is well known by now, the building of Palestine in the form of Israel did, in fact, depend, and continues to depend in large part, on the good will of the Jews “outside,” many as Norman H. Finkelstein writes in American Jewish History, deriving renewed pride in their religion and their connections to Israel with each Israeli military victory.

The irony/tragedy is that Israeli governments throughout history, including now with the Trump/Bannon merger, work with anti-Semites to promote Jewish immigration to Israel. Zionist collaboration with Nazis is also documented. Nevertheless, anti-Semitism should not be taking center stage either in arguments against Palestinians or in pro-Palestine arguments.

Israel is using a misnomer (the term “anti-Semitism” as animus against all Jews) in order to further its cause among Jews worldwide and among Western governments guilty of past bigotry against Jews in their midst.

Does animus toward Jews because they are Jews exist? Yes. Is this animus special or unique in what FiratHacıahmetoğlucalls “the darker side of western modernity (colonisation, domination, poverty, misery, inequities, injustices, commodification, and dispensability of human life)” or in Western Dark Ages?

Of course, not.

Zionism is a political movement, not “a belief”, as expressed in the following definition:

Zionism is the belief that the Jewish nation, the exiles of the Kingdom of Judea that was conquered by Rome in the year 70 CE, have a right to reclaim their homeland.

Jewish suffering, like the suffering of those subjected to bigotry anywhere, is the result of conditions of society and ought to be addressed by fixing society through an increase in political power for disenfranchised groups of people, wherever bigotry exists, thus aiding all the oppressed — as, in fact, many Jews in the U.S. have done.

In the early days of Zionism, the Jews who believed that Jewish suffering in Europe is impossible to remedy within their societies (through socialism, for example) because of their lack of political rights and the economic structure imposed on Jews at the time and those who opted for a struggle to separate as a tribe through the acquisition of territory, any territory, outside their countries, represent what Zionism really is as a political movement, which is now oppressing a fourth generation of indigenous Palestinians in their own homeland.

The way I see it, it is time to recognize “anti-Semitism” as the misnomer it is, in order for us to be able to envision Palestinian emancipation and, indeed, all human emancipation, as universal and just.

Note: The above content was first published (7 Dec 2018) as my answer on Quora to the question “Is anti-Semitism a special kind of bigotry? What is the history of the term?”.

Rima Najjar is a former professor (now retired) at Al-Quds University, Palestine


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