The other anti-Semitism

Just a quick reminder: the term “Semitic” refers to an ethnic group of Middle Eastern peoples that includes Jews, Arabs, and a number of others. It is just as anti-Semitic to be prejudiced against Palestinians as it is to be prejudiced against Jews. This puts Israel in the ironic position of being one of the most violently anti-Semitic nations on earth.


  1. CJO, egregious by any standard says

    Etymology is not meaning. Yes, “semitic” has a broader semantic range than “Jewish,” denoting a language group and an ethnic category. But the term “antisemitism,” speaking descriptively, has a narrower range than the term from which it is derived. Natural languages are funny that way.

    Prejudice against Palestinians, or another “semitic” group, or any ethnic or racial group, is unethical and harmful. It isn’t any more harmful or unethical to be “antisemitic” than to simply be prejudiced, so what is gained by inventing an “other antisemitism”? It’s a word game.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      That sounds to me like an argument for why we should not have the term “anti-semitic” at all. But I’m not sure I understand why there needs to be some sort of special justification for using terms that refer to specific types of prejudice (racism, sexism, etc), as opposed to limiting ourselves to the generic term “prejudice.”

  2. Nick Gotts says

    Yeah… no.

    The term “antisemitism”, if not actually invented by antisemites, was adopted by them early on, and it always referred to an animus directed specifically against Jews. “Semitic” is seldom used in academically respectable ethnology or anthropology to refer to modern populations at all – only to languages, and to ancient populations.

    Antisemitism also has specific features (as of course do other forms of prejudice). The following is from Steve Cohen’s That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic, an analysis of (mostly British) left antisemitism (written by a leftist, anti-Zionist, British Jew):

    Anti-semitism is not simply a type of national chauvinism that happens to be directed against Jews—although this is obviously an important aspect of it. Though Jewish people have suffered and are suffering horrifically from the material consequences of anti-semitism, its uniqueness cannot be located merely in this material suffering. The peculiar and defining feature of anti-semitism is that it exists as an ideology. It provides its adherents with a universal and generalised interpretation of the world. This is the theory of the Jewish conspiracy, which depicts Jews as historically controlling and determining nature and human destiny. Anti-semitism is an ideology which has influenced millions of people precisely because it presents an explanation of the world by attributing such extreme powers to its motive force—the Jews.

      • StevoR says

        @ ^ D’oh! Make that’s ^ “in complete” agreement natch. Space went missing somehow.

        Oh & I’m in moderation now? For what precisely may I ask, Deacon Duncan?

      • Deacon Duncan says

        Much of what I have seen you posting here lately is consistent with the patterns I have seen in racist trollery in the past. For various reasons, I have less time to devote to blog-keeping than I used to, and even if I were in a mood to debate the Palestinian situation, I would have inadequate time to give the discussion the effort it would require. Turning on moderation allows me to a chance to respond if and when I have time available, without making my blog a platform for publishing racist polemics and/or trollery. You can read my full Comment Policy and Moderation List policy via the links in the left sidebar.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Substitute “the Muslims” for “the Jews” and then google for “sharia law”. I think there is a very substantial overlap in ideology, paranoia, and prejudice against Arabs and Muslims as compared with similar ideologies and attitudes towards the Jews. And Israel’s behavior towards Palestinians differs from Nazi treatment of Jews chiefly in that Israel is spreading their genocide out over decades, in small doses, so as not to provoke the rest of the world to take action. (It also helps that they have not openly declared war on the industrialized nations of the West.)

      If the meaning of “anti-Semitic” was originally obtained from usage, then I think it’s time we adapted the usage to reflect the modern scope of this sort of prejudice and its victims.

      • Nick Gotts says

        Deacon Duncan,
        Your first point has some validity – the conspiracist aspect of antisemitism can indeed be transferred to Muslims, or for that matter to imaginary extraterrestrial shapeshifting lizards. Your second point is offensive nonsense – vile as Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is, it does not begin to approach the Nazi genocide of Jews (and, lest we forget, of Gypsies/Roma/Sinti); it’s an odd sort of “genocide” that is compatible with a considerable increase in the numbers of the target group, continued over several decades. As for your second paragraph, since anti-Muslim bigotry is not exclusively aimed at Arabs, this is just bizarre – you want to refer to assaults on Bengalis in London or Kurds in Germany as antisemitism? – and completely incompatible with your original (and faulty) justification for extending the term; it looks like you are just seeking some reason to avoid having a term that refers exclusively to prejudice against Jews.

    • polishsalami says

      This appears to be another claim that anti-Jewishness is somehow a special and different form of bigotry. This seems to be almost a religion on both the Jewish Right and Left, and seems just as impervious to facts as religion is.

      • Nick Gotts says

        As I said, it does indeed have special features – as do other forms of bigotry. Contrary to your apparent assumption, I’m not Jewish; I just happen to know something about the subject under discussion.

  3. Michael M says

    Unpacking the complexity of ethno-religious identities deserves much more elaboration than you have given it.

  4. StevoR says

    On the current horrors going on in Israel and Palestine .. Jerusalem and Gaza and Bethlehem and Nablus and Hebron and … Well, actually those horrors are not that “current” at all really but just yet another continuation, yet another round in a terribly rusty blood red cycle of people killing people because they’ve stopped seeing those people as people.

    Terrorism is wrong, the Occupation and Settlements are wrong, pretty much everything both sides are doing to each other and saying about each other is wrong and neither side is willing to admit the clear fact that so much of what they say and do and seek to do is wrong. Both sides refuse to treat the other as something other than just the “Other”.
    There’s two groups with long histories in the area and long histories of inflicting torment and misery and hell upon each other over and over and over since I was a kid and the first Intifada raged and I heard on the news that 800 people had been killed and no one seemed to care.

    The violence and killing needs to stop. The Occupation and settlements and brutality needs to stop and most of all the hatred and refusal to see the humanity of the other side needs to stop.

    The Palestinians have a right to defend themselves. The Jewish people have the right to live in a place of their own where they have a long historical indigenous presence. The Israelis need to be free of the Occupation and the harm it has wrought on their society. The Palestinians need to have security and peace and an end to the constant war against their state. The Israelis need to stop brain washing their children into (not really) thinking (more just feeling the seething acid of endless propagandist hate) the Palestinians are monsters – oh and, vice versa, for all of these.

    Neither are monsters or demons or angels or anything but what precisely each very specifically and collectively is (and each is a mass of often counterposed individuals who are frequently exceptions to their general cultural rule) and has forced itself and the other to be through history, ideology, claim and counter claim and most of all the religious fervent dehumanisation in a land where God or Asimov’s unguided Psychohistory or sheer bloody chance grew and developed them both in mutual slow despairing self destruction.

    I and others cannot end their conflict or hatred for them, each side , all sides here, has to do it themselves and realise this and change. Has to sit down and learn to share and see that they are sisters before they commit (mutual or singular) fratricide on a genocidal scale.

    I ask, no beg, them all to think and question and empathise with each other and stop what they are doing so far because it has not and cannot work for them and sit down and talk and be kind to one another. After all they share a land, share so much really including the torment of having to suffer all that each has inflicted at the hands of the other. They share pain and fear and sorrow and threats of genocide and wars and sweat and tears and even a common supposedly merciful forgiving god. Most of all they share humanity. They just don’t seem to be able to accept that yet. Their mutual tragedy.


    Believe it or not that is what I really think. I can and over the years have argued both sides, first too much one way then too much t’other. In part because I felt obliged to make amends for the one on learning the other side. In part because you once your bloody arguing, well, you’re in a bloody argument aren’t you? In part because it didn’t think that other side was getting a fair go on the blogs where I argued them going back to the good old Bad Astronomy (Phil Plaits original and best -well, second time round) blog days where I went by a number of nymns before settling on one and even before that to the years when I argued on the old Darwin Awards forums as “Mungascr” (after the cat that owned me then)for the side opposite my current one. Or most recent one. I am on Team human(e). Or I try to be anyhow. Believe it or not.

  5. says

    once your bloody arguing, well, you’re in a bloody argument aren’t you

    An intellectually honest person is interested in arguing to access truth, not simply arguing to win. You might want to think about that.

    • StevoR says

      @ ^ Marcus Ranum : You may want to reflect on the fact that you can do – or at least aim for – both.

      Which I always try to do, natch.

  6. abear says

    It is just as anti-Semitic to be prejudiced against Palestinians as it is to be prejudiced against Jews. This puts Israel in the ironic position of being one of the most violently anti-Semitic nations on earth.

    Next to Palestine? Or is it OK because they are punching up?

  7. Holms says

    @ ^ Marcus Ranum : You may want to reflect on the fact that you can do – or at least aim for – both.

    No, ‘arguing to access truth’ and ‘arguing to win’ are mutually exclusive goals.

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