The importance of the spelling and correct definition of “antisemitism”

This post was written (with a slightly different headline) by Shirlee Finn and published originally both at Honest Reporting and at Jews Down Under (of which Shirlee is the editor).

The subject may sound too minor or irrelevant to be so concerned about, but to anyone who is involved in Israel advocacy online, or fighting online Jew-hatred, this is going to sound very familiar. This post illustrates how the distortion of the term “antisemitism” diminishes the virulence of the Jew-hatred itself and thus contributes to even more anti-Jewish malevolence.  The most typical way the term is purposely distorted by antisemites is by saying that “they can’t be antisemites because the Arabs are Semites too, and they love the Arabs”.  Thus, in one fell swoop, they have emptied the term of its meaning and justified their Jew-hatred. Antisemitism is not against Semites. Antisemitism is hatred of Jews, and for that reason must not be hyphenated.

This subject is too important not to share widely, so I am reposting excerpts from it here with permission. Do go to the link above to read the entire article, and share widely on your social media:

Somewhere, sometime in the not so distant past, both the spelling and definition of ‘antisemitism’ has been bastardized. …

… By understanding how the word came about, you will see how the two words spellings of ‘antisemitism’ and ‘anti-Semitism’ can be used as a good advocacy tool.

In March 2016, I wrote an article called antisemitism v anti-Semitism ,which was amended and re-posted when I happened upon a memo from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance on the spelling of antisemitism from the IHRA Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial.

Wilhelm Marr

In 1879, German anti-Jewish journalist and political agitator Friedrich Wilhelm Adolph Marr, known as Wilhem Marr, published a pamphlet, Der Sieg des Judenthums über das Germanenthum. Vom nicht confessionellen Standpunkt aus betrachtet (The Victory of the Jewish Spirit over the Germanic Spirit. Observed from a non-religious perspective) in which the word Semitismus  was used interchangeably with the word Judentum to denote both “Jewry” and “Jewishness.”

This use of Semitismus was followed by a coining of antisemitismus which was used to indicate opposition to the Jews as a people and opposition to the Jewish spirit, which Marr interpreted as infiltrating German culture.

His intention was to replace the German word Judenhass (Jew-hatred) with a term that would make Jew-haters sound less vulgar. Marr thought that by replacing Judenhass, it would  make hatred of the Jews seem rational and sanctioned by scientific knowledge.

In his next pamphlet, Der Weg zum Siege des Germanenthums über das Judenthum (The Way to Victory of the Germanic Spirit over the Jewish Spirit, 1880), he presented a development of his ideas further and likely was the first published use of the German word antisemitismus, “antisemitism.”

The pamphlet became very popular, and in the same year he founded the Antisemiten-Liga (League of Antisemites), which was the first German organisation committed specifically to combating the alleged threat to Germany and German culture posed by the Jews and their influence, and advocating their forced removal from the country.

The similar term antisemitisch  was first used in 1860, by Jewish scholar Moritz Steinschneider, a Bohemian bibliographer and Orientalist. He received his early instruction in Hebrew from his father, Jacob Steinschneider, who was not only an expert Talmudist, but was also well versed in secular science.

Out of this came antisemitism and antisemite. By hyphenating the word to anti-Semites gives the word a whole other meaning – to be against Semites. Spelling is easily changed on your devices.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance memo on the spelling of Antisemitism is as follows:

With this memo, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) would like to address the spelling of the term antisemitism , often rendered as ‘anti-Semitism’ and Microsoft’s auto-correct feature.

IHRA’s concern is that the hyphenated spelling allows for the possibility of something called ‘Semitism,’ which not only legitimizes a form of pseudo-scientific racial classification that was thoroughly discredited by association with Nazi ideology, but also divides the term, stripping it from its meaning of opposition and hatred toward Jews.

The philological term ‘Semitic’ referred to a family of languages originating in the Middle East whose descendant languages today are spoken by millions of people mostly across Western Asia and North Africa.

Following this semantic logic, the conjunction of the prefix ‘anti’ with ‘Semitism’ indicates antisemitism as referring to all people who speak Semitic languages or to all those classified as ‘Semites.’

The term has, however, since its inception referred to prejudice against Jews alone.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the derived construct ‘Semite’ provided a category to classify humans based on racialist pseudo-science.

At the same time the neologism ‘antisemitism’, coined by German journalist Wilhelm Marr in 1879 to designate anti-Jewish campaigns, was spread through use by anti-Jewish political movements and the general public.

The modern term gained popularity in Germany and Europe incorporating traditional Christian anti-Judaism, political, social and economic anti-Jewish manifestations that arose during the Enlightenment in Europe, and a pseudo-scientific racial theory that culminated in Nazi ideology in the twentieth century.

Although the historically new word only came into common usage in the nineteenth century, the term antisemitism is today used to describe and analyse past and present forms of opposition or hatred towards Jews.

In German, French, Spanish and many other languages, the term was never hyphenated.

The unhyphenated spelling is favored by many scholars and institutions in order to dispel the idea that there is an entity ‘Semitism’ which ‘anti-Semitism’ opposes .

Antisemitism should be read as a unified term so that the meaning of the generic term for modern Jew-hatred is clear.

At a time of increased violence and rhetoric aimed towards Jews, it is urgent that there is clarity and no room for confusion or obfuscation when dealing with antisemitism.

Given that most communication today is electronic, and that Microsoft is a giant in that field, the Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial is concerned that Microsoft’s default spelling in English is ‘anti-Semitism.’ Thus the Committee strongly recommends changing the default spelling of antisemitism so that it does not autocorrect to the hyphenated version of the word.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is an intergovernmental body whose purpose is to place political and social leaders’ support behind the need for Holocaust education, remembrance and research both nationally and internationally. IHRA’s Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial was created to address the upsurge in antisemitism and Holocaust denial and trivialization.

With this memo, IHRA expresses its concern over possible confusion of a clear understanding of the word ‘antisemitism.’

Anne adds:

Shirlee, thank you for this very important message, and in particular for the IHRA definition of the term “antisemitism”. When I first started blogging I used the terms anti-Semitism and antisemitism interchangeably. Fairly quickly I noticed how the antisemites (unhyphenated!) would use the hyphenated word as “proof” that they are not antisemites! It was a circular argument which I knew was not made in good faith and they were just toying with us.

This article has explained the problem and the solution very clearly and simply. We must not let the Jew-haters (for that is what antisemites are) get away with their nasty mind games and distortions of language.

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11 Responses to The importance of the spelling and correct definition of “antisemitism”

  1. Pingback: The importance of the spelling and correct definition of “antisemitism” – 24/6 Magazine

  2. Jeff Polaski says:

    Thank you for posting this, Anne. It corrects a mistake I commonly make.
    It is also the acutely specific type of history that makes my (older) little grey cells happy.

  3. Shirl in Oz says:

    Anne, being an expat Brit like me, you SHOULD have know the correct spelling.. 🙂
    It’s only the US, copied by Israel who spell it incorrectly.

    • anneinpt says:

      I always did, for the very reasons noted in the post! My instinct led me in the right direction I am happy to say. I remember being confused at the start of my blogging career but then I realised the truth of the terminology.

      • Shirl in Oz says:

        I have a Canadian and South African who send me articles occasionally and they both complain that when they post in Israel, their spelling of antisemitism is altered.

  4. Earl says:

    Just call it “Judenhass” and have done with it. We here all know what it is, and etymological debates simply obscure the horrid underlying precept.

    /interestingly, Canada recently adopted the IHRA definition of the concept, which is a significant accomplishment considering the Mohammedan complement in the current Cabinet.

    • Shirlee Finn says:

      Judenhass is right Earl, say it as it is, but in today’s PC world it isn’t.

      That’s the sum of it.

    • anneinpt says:

      You are correct of course but as Shirlee says, PC-ness would not “allow” it, and it will just close people’s minds and ears. Having it set out like Shirlee did in her post here clarifies it, not really for the haters – they are a lost cause – but for those who are confused or who are merely neutral.

      And well done to Canada for doing the right thing – even without Harper at the helm.

      • Earl says:

        Indeed, Ms. Finn elucidates correctly. For the informed and sapient. Who, of course, are in (seemingly) the tiny minority in today’s PC world…

        /Anne: virtually certainly, it will be “next year in Jerusalem” for me. Nous nosheons? 🙂

  5. Pingback: Reclaiming the word “Zionism” from the antisemites | Anne's Opinions

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