|Wilhelm Marr, inventor of ‘antisemitism’
To start on a note that may strike some as trivial or pedantic, I favor writing “antisemitism” in the British way, as one word without a hyphen. Antisemitism–a term invented by a 19th century German (Wilhelm Marr) to label his Jew-hating belief system–is an ideology, but “semitism” is not; there is no such thing as “semitism.” Furthermore, antisemitism is not about the hatred of all people who speak a Semitic language—the linguistic family that includes Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic; to speak of “Semites” and “Aryans” as distinct ethnic groups or “races” is (whether inadvertently or not) to accept the Nazis’ racist classification system. Consequently, it’s not a misnomer to refer to Arabs who hate Jews as antisemites—as some people, who downplay the problem of antisemitism, claim.
A longtime board member of ours, Jerome Chanes, a historian and contributing editor of The Forward, has recently written a review
of the latest in the epic list of books on the subject. He concludes with the common understanding that this is a problem of non-Jews, not a Jewish problem as such. I know what he means, of course, but I disagree slightly.
Yes, among hardcore antisemites, Jews are guilty of something bad regardless of what they do. Such people cannot even accept Jews when they convert to Christianity, or when they are completely assimilated into the non-Jewish majority culture, eschewing any interest in or attachment to a community of self-affirming Jews. But antisemitism becomes a dangerous affliction when these bigots are able to stir up the passions of otherwise non-fanatical non-Jews by pointing to real or imagined wrong-doing by Jews.
Such is what happened in recent years when the widely disseminated visuals of the Second Intifada and of the Israeli military response inspired antisemitic outbursts against European Jews
(most especially noted among Muslim immigrant communities in France). So on occasion, what Jews do, or are seen to do, does matter.
This is a point I made in a somewhat controversial op-ed article in The Forward in 2003. I noted that if some pivotal singular events had not happened–e.g., Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Arabs in Hebron, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv during the election campaign of 1996–the peace process of the 1990s would likely have succeeded and there would have been no wave of antisemitic incidents in Europe in the early 2000’s.
There are parts of Western Europe today where Jews are warned against wearing kippot (yarmulkes), or stars of David, or other symbols of Jewishness on the street. And widespread anti-Israel sentiments in the Muslim world are often expressed in antisemitic terms. But I see the antisemitism as mostly a product of anti-Israel attitudes rather than the other way around.