Fighting Antisemitism

But What Exactly is Antisemitism?

Pinning down the semantics of ‘Semitic.’

What Is AntisemitismFirst, let’s get the linguistic games over with. There is no such thing as a “Semite.” It’s an outdated term based on a misinterpretation of linguistic similarities. This is why the hyphen has been removed in “antisemitism,” which is the word for hatred of Jews. Even those formerly called Semites can be antisemitic. This change was the result of a successful anti-hyphen campaign by US Antisemitism Envoy Deborah Lipstadt.

With the semantics of “Semitic” out of the way, the official definition of antisemitism comes from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

There’s more to it, but that’s basically it. You can read all the fine print here. One thing that is worth pointing out is that, despite what you may read elsewhere, it does not define any criticism of Israel as antisemitic. It does, however, say that it is antisemitic to deny “the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

I’m dwelling on this because an important part of fighting antisemitism is to counter the “straw man” argument that Jews claim antisemitism whenever Israel is criticized. With your help via Kickstarter, my book will break down these definitions even further and provide answers to the mantra that Jews hear a great deal: “Criticism of Israel isn’t antisemitism.” On the surface, no, but what is often heard is not criticism of Israel but rhetoric calling for its destruction.

Criticism of Israeli policy? Fair game. “Criticism” of Israel’s right to exist? Antisemitic. Well, in general. I’d also go a step further and say that obsession over Israel, above all other nations, could also bleed into antisemitic territory.

It can get confusing, but it’s important that we all agree on a definition before we can effectively fight antisemitism.

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