English is not a logical language, unfortunately. Although you can talk about "Semitic people" in English and use it to mean people of a Middle Eastern origin, the term anti-semitism does not actually mean anti-Semitic. Due to popular usage it has come to mean anti-Jewish and despite its etymology any attempt to say that anti-semitism is hatred or dislike of all Semitic people is as doomed to failure as someone trying to claim that the word "gay" is simply a term for a jolly, happy person and has nothing to do with sexuality.

I personally dislike the term anti-semitism because I feel it perpetuates the idea that Jews are people of a race, rather than a religion. I have met Jews who are blonde, blue-eyed and picture-perfect examples of a stereotyped Aryan. I have met black Jews, and I know there are at least some Asian Jews. None of these people could be described as Semitic in any shape or form yet prejudice against them because of their religion would get termed anti-semitism. The illogicality of English.

A few words on the origins of the term:

Remember Noah? He had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Since all the rest of humanity was destroyed in the Flood, it follows that all of present day mankind is descendent from one of the three of them. Naturally this geneaology doesn't take into account any nationalities which were not familiar to the writers of the ancient myth. In any case it is not a viable way of dividing people into groups, just a hangup from Biblical definitions. However, the "semitic" group remains, and modern day Jews and Arabs belong to it.

Anthropologically and archaeologically speaking, there were marked similarities in the cultures and languages of Semitic peoples of the ancient Near East. There were two groups of people called semitic - Eastern Semitic and Western Semitic. Aramaic and Accadian (the language of Assyria and Babylon) are Eastern Semitic languages, while Hebrew, Phoenician and Arabic are Western Semitic languages. Only the western branch of both semitic languages and cultures survives today.

Today, antisemitism has the dubious distinction of being a specialised term for Jew-hating.

I once read a book about anti-semitism. It was a fictional piece, that talked about racism and stuff from a child's perspective. In this book, one character kept hearing about "Auntie Semitism", and didn't know why everyone hated her so much. "What did she ever do to make people so angry?"

To me, this will always be a reminder about how hate is something that we learn, and the more we hate, and know about it.. the less innocent we are.
The term "anti-semitism" was coined by German agitator Wilhelm Marr, who founded the League for Anti-Semitism in 1879. Marr advocated pseudoscientific biological and anthropological ideas which held the "Jewish race" inferior to the "Aryan" or "Teutonic" race. He created the term "anti-semitism" to distinguish this secular hatred of the "Jewish race" from earlier religious prejudice against Judaism.

What was this earlier prejudice? Prior to the 19th century, prejudice against Jews was largely founded upon suspicion of their religion and its practices, or of their insularity as a community. The Catholic Church taught that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, and that their rejection of Christianity was an ongoing affront to God. (Indeed, some anti-Jewish doctrines remained in the Catholic catechism and liturgy up through the 1960s.) In Spain and France, the Inquisition tortured or killed openly Jewish men and women who would not convert. Martin Luther and other Protestant leaders fulminated against the Jewish community both as Christ-killers and as conspirators. Many European Christians believed the myth now known as the blood libel -- the idea that Jews drank human blood (or specifically that of unbaptized Christian children) in their religious rituals. Many Christian Europeans also suspected Jews of economic collusion and political conspiracy -- allegations still parroted today by anti-semitic conspiracy theorists. It was this cultural background which formed the environment for later racial anti-semitism.

Since Marr's time, and particularly since the time of the Holocaust, the term "anti-semitism" has come to refer to any form of prejudice against Jews -- whether racial, theological, economic, or otherwise. Some Zionists have attempted to broaden the term to include political opposition to the modern nation of Israel, although this is more accurately anti-Zionism.

In the Western world today, anti-semitism is thankfully rare. It is chiefly represented in so-called "hate groups" -- clubs, churches, and gangs focused on their hatred for racial and religious minorities. Examples include America's Ku Klux Klan and World Church of the Creator; England's National Front; small neo-Nazi gangs throughout Europe; and Scandinavia's White Power organizations and racial nationalist political parties.

An`ti-Sem"i*tism (?), n.

Opposition to, or hatred of, Semites, esp. Jews. -- An`ti-Sem"ite (#), n. -- An`ti-Sem*it"ic (#), a.

 

© Webster 1913

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