2011 / 5 / 28
Prof. Haseeb Shehadeh
The University of Helsinki
Often we come across news saying there is rise in anti-Semitism in this country or that. Such news follow actions like flaring Synagogues, drawing swastikas, causing damage to Jewish cemeteries The expression ‘‘anti-Semitism’’ is inadequate, it is a misnomer and is one of the common terms which are erroneously used today. The correct meaning is prejudice, hatred or hostility against Semitic peoples. The remaining Semitic peoples today are mainly Arabs and Jews, the former number approximately 400 millions and the later nearly 14 millions. Among the ancient Semitic peoples one may refer to the Akkadians, Canaanites, Aramaeans, Ugarites, Amorites, Edomites, Moabites, Phoenicians and Aksumites. In spite of these facts the term Anti-semitism or Antisemitimus refers today merely to Jews. Jews are not a race and what unifies them are in fact tradition and belief in mutual destiny. This is a unique case in which a term is used in order to express negative attitude towards one specific people, Jews.
‘Semitic’ is an adjective derived from the Hebrew name ‘Shem’, the oldest son of Noah as mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 5: 32, 6: 10, 10: 21), or more precisely it is from the Greek derivative of that name, namely Σημ (Sēm), Shemi in Hebrew and Saamiyy in Arabic because shin in Hebrew is equivalent to sin in Arabic.
Arabs are certainly Semites or Semitic people because they belong to the offspring of Shem. Semitic people originated in south western Asia. The term was originally referring to the languages related to Hebrew by the German historian August Ludwig von Schlözer (1735-1809), in Eichhorn’s ‘Repertorium’, vol. VIII (Leipzig, 1781), p. 161. The ancient Semitic peoples were Nomads who were migrating from Arabia to Mesopotamia, the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, and the Nile River delta many centuries before the Christian era.
The word antisemitism was coined in 1879 from the Greek words ‘anti’, meaning ‘against’ and ‘Semite’, meaning a descendant of Shem. The word was first used by Wilhelm Marr (1819-1904), a German agitator, who created it in order to explain the current anti-Jewish campaigns in Europe. Those campaigns broke out because of religious, economic, cultural or racial reasons. Since the Arab peoples are also Semitic people, it is not an appropriate expression to use. Anti-Jewish, and Jew-hatred, are more accurate and appropriate. It is more than just prejudice. The word came into general use in the past hundred years and encompasses all forms of hostility and enmity manifested toward Jews throughout history. See: http://christianactionforisrael.org/antiholo/summanti.html
In the comprehensive New Hebrew-Hebrew dictionary by Avraham Even Shoshan, 6 vols. Jerusalem 1993. p. 2725 and under the term Shemi we find: adjective of Shem son of Noah, Gen 5: 32. The Jews and the Arabs are Semites”. In vol 1 p. 120 of the same dictionary under the term ‘antishemi’, anti from Greek meaning ‘against’ and Semite that is to say anyone who mitnagged v#-sone meaning an objector and hater of the children of the Semitic stock (geza> shemi) and in brackets it is added: and especially (uvemeyuHad) he who hates Israel, enemy , oppressor of Jews (soone Yisra’el, tsoorer ha-yehudim).
In Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jerusalem 1972, vol. 14, column 1148 we find among other things the following information:
“...the chief surviving representative of the list (Semites) the Jews and Arabs”, …‘‘The problematic nature and evil results of earlier racial theories have led to restriction of the terms Semite and Semitic in careful modern usage to linguistic categories. Aside from the Biblical referent, the linguistic is the only modern scholarly-scientific use of the term. The combination of peoples under the rubric Semites in Genesis 10 is not justified by the linguistic criterion … and in current usage the peoples speaking these languages are called Semitic-today mainly the Jews (Hebrew) and Arabs...”.
In the Dictionary of Contemporary English, New Edition, for advanced learners, 5th ed. 2009, p. 1548 we read: “Semitic: 1 a) belonging to the race of people that includes Jews, Arabs, and in ancient times, Babylonians and Assyrians. b) relating to any of the languages of these people. 2 another word for JEWISH and see anti-Semitic at ANTI-SEMITE”.
under anti-Semite on p. 62 it is written. “someone who hates Jewish people” and so anti-Semitism is hatred of Jewish people.
In the New Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus and Medical Dictionary, New York 1991, p. 344: we find “Semite: member of a speech family comprising Hebrews, Arabs, Assyrians, etc., descendant of Shem (Genesis x).
In conclusion it is obvious that the term anti-Semitism or Antisemitism is inaccurate because it is used against Jews only and they form a tiny group among the Semites. Since the end of the 19th century Jews and pro-Zionist movements started to use this term to express hostility toward or to focus on what they considered prejudice against Jews or Judaism. The attempt to differentiate between anti-Semitism meaning against the Semites and Antisemitism meaning against Jews did not establish any roots. Almost all the Jewish Israelis are against the Arabs who are Semites; should they be called anti-Semitic?
An accurate term would be anti-Jewish or anti-Jew etc.