Roots of Anti-Semitism Misunderstood
by: Adam Sabet
New University, (UC Irvine) CA
May 24 2004
Throughout the history of Western journalism – as with most other
journalism – there has been a substantial outpour of falsified
information, none more consistent than the misuse of the term
“anti-Semitism.” Since the rise and fall of the Third Reich, people of
Jewish descent (and later Israelis) have used the term to exclusively
depict people who look down upon the Jewish peoples and would rather
have them exterminated.
Had any of the numerous journalists or Israelis who have used this term
paused to study the meaning of “Semitism,” they would be surprised
to learn that a Semite is a member of a group of Semitic-speaking
people of the near-East and Northern Africa. Jewish people are but
one of many of the Semitic peoples, including the Arabs, Arameans
(lingual ancestors of Arabs and Armenian), Babylonians, Carthaginians
(biological ancestors of present-day Moroccans and Algerians),
Ethiopians, Hebrews and Phoenicians (present-day Lebanese). As such,
there are only four remaining Semitic subgroups: Hebrew/Jewish, Arab,
Ethiopian and Armenian. Through this purely lingual definition –
the only one that is academically legitimate – Arabs cannot be labeled
as anti-Semitic. Thus, for any Westerner (or Israeli for that matter)
to refer to Yasser Arafat or any other Arab leader as an anti-Semite is
by definition impossible and an improper use of the English language,
lest that Arab seeks self-destruction as well.
In terms of ethno-racial labeling, a Semite would be defined by a
person’s geo-biological heritage–they must be able to trace their
lineage to the Middle East. Using such a definition, a Jewish convert
of European descent could not accurately be identified as Semitic.
Also, Israelis with fair skin, blue eyes and blond hair cannot be
accurately viewed as more Semitic than their olive-skinned, brown-eyed
counterparts (regardless of religious following). Such a claim would
be similar to a seemingly white person claiming to be black based on
perpetual indoctrination of such a belief or some ancient hereditary
For too long has this term been improperly used and perhaps ingeniously
so. Though this may seem a moot point, the exclusive use of the term
Semite to refer to those of Jewish descent or Israeli nationality
does have great philological value. By claiming Jews or Israelis to
be the remaining Semites of the world evokes greater sympathy from
an otherwise indifferent ear.
Thus this error in definition has allowed the media to portray
anti-Semitism to be on the rise in Europe, invoking the memories of
the fascist days of the World War era. The so-called “anti-Semitic”
sentiment of the European nations is thus labeled by their condemnation
of Israeli incursions, and the rise of such sentiments among their
publics in light of the Palestinian (another Semitic people) plight and
perpetual state of vulnerability. During the World War era, however,
true anti-Semitism was on the rise as Europeans commonly upheld the
belief that Semites (along with all other minorities) were inferior
to those of self-proclaimed “pure Aryan” descent.
Had the commonly used definition of Semitism been accurate, then
countless Western journalists and Israelis would still be using the
term out of context in regards to public European admonition of Israel
and any Arab leaders, including Yasser Arafat. Though some Arabs may
wish to see the absolute removal of Israel from once-Palestinian lands,
most accept Israel’s right to exist and have not hatred for all Jews,
but rather for the occupying and brutally oppressive nature of Israel
towards Palestinians. Anti-Israeli sentiment, in this regard, is often
haphazardly confused with anti-Semitism. However, just as during the
Cold War the United States was anti-communist and not anti-Slavic,
most Arabs who have been wrongfully accused of anti-Semitism are in
reality merely anti-Israeli; that is, their enemy is the country’s
policies and not its people nor followers of the Jewish faith.
The difference between hatred for all Jews and a hatred of Israel
must be clarified as the lack of differentiating the two results in
demonizing those who are against Israel as being no better than Hitler.
As with all long-hidden truths, this one must be revealed somewhere.
For too long have the other Semitic peoples sat idly while they were
slowly being excluded from their ethno-lingual heritage. I find such
an exclusion not only ignorant, but insulting as well; as a modern
Egyptian-American, to deny my Semitic roots is worse than denying my
Pharaonic ones, as I am culturally entrenched in Semitism and not
the ways of the ancients. For all the Armenian, Arab and Ethiopian
readers out there: Whenever you hear the misuse of the term that is
used to define your peoples, please correct the speaker.
Adam Sabet is a third-year political science major.