"In the first place, this term anti-Semitism is a nonsense term, because
understanding is that the Arabs are also Semites, not only the Jews, so I
don't know what that means. I'm definitely not anti-Arab"
(Chess genius Bobby Fischer)
A few weeks ago, a prominent U.S. congressman lambasted the Egyptian press
for running stories filled with banti-semeticb rhetoric. That was followed
by a prominent law professor ridiculing an Al Jazeera spokesperson with
accusations that the only independent Arab news outlet is banti-semiticb
because its coverage is critical of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian
territories. Almost overnight, the term Arab and anti-semite became
This would have been comedy a la Buster Keaton (or Jerry Springer) had it not
been so tragically malevolent. Beaming into hundreds of millions of homes is
the message that Arabs are anti-semitic and therefore racist zealots who are
automatically prejudiced against the semitism of Jews and Israel. What is
ominously missing is the little factoid that (surprise, surprise!) Arabs
are semites with as equal a merit to the title as Jews and Israelis. What is
more disturbing, however, is the other interesting factoid that the
congressman and law professor were themselves of Jewish heritage, and
therefore the most likely to understand that Arabs cannot be anti-semitic
because they themselves are semitic. This begs the question: why are they
calling Arab semites anti-semitic?
History lesson number one: According to the 2001 Macmillan Encyclopedia,
Semites are "A group of peoples, including the Jews and Arabs, said in the
Bible to be descended from Shem, Noah's eldest son. The Babylonians,
Assyrians, Canaanites, and Phoenicians were ancient Semitic peoples."
The Catholic Encyclopedia offers a similar definition: "The Semitic peoples
are divided into four chief Babylonian-Assyrian Semites (East Semites),
Chanaanitic Semites, (West Semites), Aramaic Semites (North Semites), and Ara
bian Semites (South Semites). The most powerful branch of the Semitic group
of peoples, are indigenous to Central and Northern Arabia, where even to-day
the original character is most purely preserved."
Languages of the semites, according to both encylopedias, include Sumerian
cuneiform (the first recorded writing), Canaanite, Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic,
Maltese, and Amharic, a language of Eritrea.
Based on the above definitions, there are some 22 million Jewish Semites and
270 million Arab, Maltese and Ethiopian Semites in the world today.
History lesson number two: According to the Medieval Sourcebook,
anti-semitism can be traced back to the 16th century when the myth of Anderl
Von Rinn, a Christian allegedly killed by Jews, spread throughout Europe. In
his book, Triumph Cron Marter Vnd Grabschrift des Heilig Unschuldigen Kindts
(1619), Dr. Hippolyt Guarinoni (1571-1654) wrote of a "a boy [allegedly] put
to death by Jews out of hatred for Christ at Rinn near Innsbruck, Austria."
The story is thought to be inspired by the Cult of Little St. Hugh of
Lincoln, England, whose body was found in a well in 1255, and the death
ascribed to Jews. Noted playwright of The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
wrote in A Prioressb Tale:
O you young Hugh of Lincoln, slain also
By cursed Jews, as is well known to all,
Since it was but a little while ago,
Pray you for us, sinful and weak, who call,
That, of His mercy, God will still let fall
Something of grace, and mercy multiply,
For reverence of His Mother dear on high. Amen.
Hatred for Jews in Europe had been enlfamed by the Crusades a few centuries
earlier. Joel Carmichael, noted scholar of Russian history believes that
anti-Semitism took on fanatical hysterics with the advent of Christianity and
the early Crusades where Jews were seen as inhumanly evil and satanically
entranced. The Crusaders depicted the Jews as "demonic murderers of God".
This was taught extensively to young Christian children and nurtured a hatred
of all things Jewish. (The Satanizing of the Jews : Origin and Development of
Mystical Anti-Semitism, Joel Carmichael 1992).
However, it was not until the late 19th century that this bigotry against
Jews reached reach militant levels. This can perhaps be attributed to the
influence of the science of eugenics and the growing popularity of social
Darwinism. Darwinbs evolutionary theories and the notion of "survival of the
fittest" fueled the Germanic people to view themselves as superior Aryans,
the infamous lexicon of history. With this feeling now paramount in German
social development, a group of people had to be termed inferior.
Unfortunately, it was the Jews who were now seen as inferior and harassment
and persecution gave rise. The actual term of "anti-semitism" came about in
1879 when German writer Wilhelm Marrih sought a scientific term to explain
and legitimize the hatred Jews were now facing.
So popular was anti-semitism that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler would later
expound himself as a proud anti-semite. "Gradually I began to hate them. For
me this was the time of the greatest spiritual upheaval I have ever gone
through. I have ceased to be a weak-kneed cosmopolitan and have become an
anti-Semite" (Adoph Hitlerbs Mein Kampf).
Armed with the knowledge that anti-semitism is a European manifestation, and
that the term Semite refers to Arabs and not only Jews, the question begs
itself: why would two policy-makers (among many others) publicly accuse Arabs
The answer is no real mystery, but does present itself in several
mathematical stages in lieu of the Arab-Israeli conflict:
1. Arabs are highly critical of Israeli policies towards Palestine,
Golan Heights and south Lebanon. Any criticism of Israeli policies, including
the internationally condemned occupation of Palestinian territories, is
2. When the term banti-semiticb is used, it automatically invokes
Hitler, Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, Auschwitz, Kristallnacht and the
suffering of European Jews 60 years ago.
3. Alleged Arab anti-semitism will now be seen in light of European
anti-semitism and an automatic correlation will be made between the
Arab-Israeli conflict and the Nazi persecution and murder of Jews.
4. Alleged Arab anti-semitism will now be associated with racist
(anti-Jewishness) and the crux of the matter, political criticism of Israeli
policies will be institutionally shelved.
5. Arabs will now be referred to as those calling for the extermination
all Jews in much the same way the Nazis did with the bFinal Solutionb.
Citing criticism of Israeli policies as anti-semitic hatred is tantamount
a pyschological hijacking manifested by communal guilt. Literary and
philological terrorism, if you will.
The term anti-semite has become so loathe that in April of 2001, Denver,
Colorado Judge Edward Nottingham awarded $10 million to a couple who were
accused of being bAnti-Semitesb by the Anti-Defamation League.
"Based on its position and history as a well-respected civil-rights
institution, it is not unreasonable to infer that public charges of
anti-Semitism leveled by the ADL will be taken seriously and assumed by many
to be true without question," the judge wrote in a 46-page order and
memorandum of decision. "In that respect, the ADL is in a unique position of
being able to cause substantial harm to individuals when it lends its backing
to allegations of anti-Semitism."
Opposition to the loose anti-semitic branding may be catching: "Let's choose
our words more carefully, like calling violence or discrimination against
Jews, "anti-Jewish," acknowledging that our Arab brothers and sisters are
Semities too. May the cross-cultural exchanges continue and grow" (JULIE
CHASEN, Jewish Bulletin).
Firas Al-Atraqchi is a Muslim Canadian journalist living on the Pacific
by courtesy & B) 2001 Firas Al-Atraqchi
Copyright B) 2001 Media Monitors Network. All rights reserved. B Reproduction
in whole or in part without
permission is prohibited.