It’s time to stop using the term “Antisemitism”
You’ve probably heard the term “Antisemitism” before. It’s been in colloquial usage for over a century at this point, and over that time it has in essence become the “standard” way to refer to anti-Jewish sentiment.
Unfortunately, that’s a problem. The term “Antisemitism” is problematic for several reasons, which we’ll get into now.
What does “Antisemitism” mean?
First off, let’s start with the literal meaning of “Antisemite”. Simply, it’s putting together “anti”, meaning against, with “Semite”. So what is a “Semite”?
Well… that’s complicated. The word comes from the Biblical character of שם (pronounced Shem), one of the three sons of Noah (of flood fame) and ancestor of Abraham. In Christianity, he’s considered one of the ancestors of Jesus.
In the 1770s, the term “Semite” was coined to refer to those of the Caucasian race, and eventually came to mean people from the Middle East. However, the term “Semite” isn’t really used anymore except in linguistics, where there’s the idea of Semitic languages, such as the ancient Middle Eastern languages.
So the term “Semite” would either mean all of the descendants of Shem — which, according to some people, would be all of the continent of Asia — or the peoples of the Middle East, including Jews, Arabs, Christians, Assyrians, Armenians… etc.
In any case, hardly limited to Jews.
Where did the term come from?
So already, even just looking at the literal meaning of this term, we can already see that it makes no sense to use it to mean anti-Jew. So how did this all get started in the first place?
Well, we have a man named Wilhelm Marr to thank for it. Let’s take a look.
Marr was born in Germany in 1819, and became extremely anti-Jewish after political failure in the late 1840s. By the 1870s, Marr was publicly campaigning about the “Aryans” and the “Semites”, and was bent on eradicating the “foreign” influence of the Jews in office. Marr coined the term “Antisemitismus", Antisemitism, as a way of replacing the term “Judenhass”, Jew-hatred, and making it more “acceptable”, by indicating that it had a scientific basis. Marr founded the “Antisemiten-Liga”, or “League of Antisemites”, and the term entered the standard lexicon and gained widespread usage.
So what’s the problem?
The phrase “Antisemite” is inherently an incorrect, ambiguous term that was coined by an anti-Jewish extremist who wanted to make his views seem more palatable. Continuing to use the term is not only perpetuating the use of a completely incorrect term, but also perpetuating the work of an extreme anti-Jewish extremist and provides a way for those with anti-Jewish views to hide behind and ambiguous term that hides that they are, indeed, just anti-Jewish.
Instead, I recommend using the term “anti-Jewish” (like I’ve done in this post). It’s clear, unambiguous, and uses standard terminology. It’s a much better choice than “Antisemitism”, and leaves no room for doubt.
We should all leave the term “Antisemitism”, and, along with it, the concept that it conveyed, behind in the past, where it belongs.