The need for a better word for anti-Semitism

Have you noticed that not a single anti-Semite ever admits to being an anti-Semite? There is a perfectly good reason for this. The word “anti-Semitism,” like the word “racism,” means morally bad, and naturally no one admits to being morally bad. To the contrary, the anti-Semites think that they are justified in their opposition to the Jews and their belief that the Jews are the main source of ills in our society and even their belief that the Jews are the conscious mortal enemies of our society; therefore the anti-Semites don’t think that hostility to Jews and conspiracy theories about Jews are morally bad. They think that they are morally good, because they think that they are true. Therefore they disdainfully reject the term anti-Semitism and regard it as false concept. Since the critics of the anti-Semites keep calling them anti-Semites, and since the anti-Semites despise both the charge and the people who make it, the debate keeps revolving uselessly around the contested word anti-Semitism instead of dealing with the substance of what anti-Semitism really is. There is, therefore, a need for a term that conveys the objective meaning of the word anti-Semitism without the built-in moral judgment, a term that both the anti-Semites and their critics will agree is a correct description of the phenomenon under discussion.

The briefest descriptive and non-judgmental equivalent of the word anti-Semitism that I can think of is: the belief that the Jews are the enemy. That phrase conveys the essence of what the people at blogs such as Majority Rights and Alternative Right are about. I think most of them would acknowledge that the phrase accurately describes them. Yes, there is a problem in that the phrase consists of several words and is too long for ordinary and repeated use. Perhaps “anti-Jewishness” or “anti-Jew” could be used as shorthand. Notice that “anti-Jew” conveys the same meaning as “anti-Semite,” without the loaded quality of hyper moral judgment that is attached to the latter.

I think that if the critics of the anti-Semites began at least occasionally describing them as people who regard the Jews as their enemy, or, alternatively, as anti-Jews, rather than as anti-Semites, the discussion could move beyond the unproductive exchange of invective and better reveal both the actual substance of anti-Semitism and the truth or untruth of its claims. Opponents of anti-Semitism should not be fearful of this. When an anti-Semite, such as Tanstaafl, proudly and truthfully states that he sees the Jews as his enemies, the true nature of his beliefs and character stands out more clearly than ever.

My aim here is not to be nice to the anti-Jews. My aim is to take away their ability to obscure and deny what they are, by taking away their opportunity to keep endlessly whining that their critics are “name-calling” them. “Stop name-calling us,” the anti-Jews cry, “and deal with the facts, the facts of Jewish evil that we are trying to bring forth.” So let’s deal with the facts, including the facts of what the anti-Jews actually believe. Facts are better than name-calling.

- end of initial entry -

N. writes:

As I’m sure you know, the term “anti-Semitism” was coined by the German Wilhelm Marr to replace the older German term “Judenhasse.” This word literally translates to “Jew-hate.”

So now the term “anti-Semitism” or “anti-Semite” has come to have sufficient semantic loading that, as you point out, discussions with those who hate Jews simply because the are Jewish wind up in endless definitional arguments.

The term “anti-Jew” or “anti-Jewish” is probably as good as one can hope for, although it would be a rich historical irony if the Alt-Right crowd could be persuaded to embrace “Judenhasse” again. We’d have come full circle in about a century and a quarter, you see.

Carolyn P. writes:

I always use the term “Judophobic,” mainly because Semites are both Jewish and Arabic.

LA replies:

But anti-Semitism has never been taken to refer to Arabs. It only means Jews. So that’s really not a problem. At the same time, you’re right that the word is not precise.

N. writes:

I dislike the use of the term “phobic” in common discourse, because a phobia is an unreasoned fear that can be diagnosed by medical doctors. Someone with an unreasoned fear of, for example, open spaces can be diagnosed as agoraphobic. Another person with an unreasoning fear of enclosed spaces can be diagnosed as claustrophobic.

The casual use of the term “phobic,” as in “homophobic,” “Islamophobic” and so forth is not only inaccurate, but it constitutes a deliberate attempt to reduce opposition to homosexual or Islamic agendas to an irrational mental disorder. This implies that opposition to homosexual “marriage” is thus the province of the mentally ill.

So because of the inaccuracy, and the not so subtle message of “if you disagree with us, you are mentally ill,” I very much dislike coining words that end with “phobic.” Disliking or even hating people because of some property they hold in common is not a phobia. It may or may not be bigotry, but it is not a phobia.

As amusing and satisfying as it may be to refer to those who practice Judenhasse as “Judeophobic,” I’m afraid I cannot go along with this term. The first step to wisdom, as many philosophers from Lao Tzu on have told us, is to call things by their right names. The Alt-Right crowd isn’t phobic towards Jewish people, they hate them. They practice Judenhasse.

James P. writes:

The anti-Semites are not going to accept any label that others pin on them, so I don’t see the point of burning a lot of calories trying to invent such a name. I think “Jew-haters” works pretty well if we need an alternative to “anti-Semites”. I am also dubious about engaging them in argument anyway, since there is no evidence one could produce that would convince them of the error of their claim that Jews are the Eternal Enemy.

There is one guy named Svigor, who often comments at Mangan’s, who for some unknown reason consistently refers to Jews as “non-gentiles”. So perhaps we could call him an “anti-non-gentile” instead of an anti-Semite?

LA replies:

Moi, advocating direct engagement with the anti-Semites? How could you think that? However, when our side says things about them, they reply. So there is an indirect debate. As I said, if our side began referring to them in objective, descriptive language as “people who regard the Jews as their enemies,” they would lose the ability to keep complaining about how we are unfairly labeling them. They would have to AGREE with our characterization of them. I think that that would advance clarity on the subject.

Tovi A. writes:

My preferred replacement term for anti-Semitism is “counter-Semitism” (as in “counter-revolutionary”). I don’t remember where I saw it being used for the first time, maybe on Mangan’s blog.

It encapsulates perfectly how these guys see their position vis a vis the Jews—that their raison d’etre is to oppose the nefarious acts of Jews. “Counter-semitism” implies not just an ill-defined hate, but a complete political program, that elevates Jews to the status of the Great Enemy.

LA replies:

Excellent, excellent.

In this connection, I agree with commenter N. who said that terms such as “Judeo-phobic” or “Jew-hatred” are not correct. “Hate” suggests that anti-Jewishness is primarily a matter of emotion, when in reality anti-Jewishness is primarily a matter of believing certain propositions about the Jewish people, believing that they really are the enemy and the primary source of all ills. Liberals never want this kind of descriptive clarity, because they want to dismiss all “anti-isms” as mere emotion, so as not to have to recognize and deal with the fact that the “anti-isms” are coherent (if deluded and irrational) belief systems about the nature of the world.

August 23

D. from Seattle writes:

Instead of “People who regard the Jews as their enemy,” why not simply “Enemies of the Jews?” I realize this changes the perspective from a somewhat passive role, “I believe X is the enemy (to me), therefore I am on a receiving end of X’s enmity,” to an active role, “Since X is an enemy to me, I am an enemy to X,” but I don’t think anyone would object to that, and it makes for a much shorter and precise phrase.

Test if this works: Are “People who regard Muslims as their enemy” and “Enemies of the Muslims” functionally equivalent? How about “People who believe that Nazis are the enemy” and “Enemies of the Nazis”—are those functionally equivalent? If the answer is yes, I believe that “Enemies of the Jews” is a better word for anti-Semitites.

LA replies:

But what about my term: “Anti-Jews”? Isn’t that the shortest and most precise of all? We can call anti-Semites “anti-Jews,” and anti-Semitism “anti-Jewism.”

Also, your suggestion only works as an equivalent of “anti-Semites.” You are not offering an equivalent for “anti-Semitism.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 20, 2010 10:28 AM | Send

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