By Lawrence DiStasi
Though it should not be necessary to say it, history proves that there has been and continues to be virulent anti-Jewish sentiment in our world, a sentiment which has led to an unparalleled catalogue of horrors. Indeed, this history of European, mainly Christian animus towards Jews is what gives the term "anti-Semitic" its heavy load of opprobrium. Everyone knows what that animus has led to in our time. No one wishes to be associated, either overtly or covertly, with it. Which is, of course, why the term is used. To attack someone as "anti-Semitic" is to instantly demonize, silence, and invalidate anything and everything that person may say. As Alfred Lilienthal wrote nearly two decades ago when Norman Podhoretz hurled the term at Gore Vidal for the latter's criticism of Israel: the mere interjection of the label "anti-Semite" halts discussion, mutes doubt and crushes debate on Middle East policy. In fact, nothing has accounted more for the success of Zionism and Israelism in the Western world than the skillful attack on the soft underbelly of world opinion--"Mr. Decent Man's" total repugnance toward anti-Semitism.
Given the proven power of the term, one would think that some of the keepers of informed opinion would examine it. Is the term accurate? And even if it is, should it be flung, as it almost always is these days, at those who criticize Israel, Israeli policies, and/or those neocons in the US Government who have so zealously promoted war with Iraq and a remaking of the Middle East? Sadly, such questions are the first casualties of the term's employment, for so overwhelming is the revulsion and fear it inspires that all consideration of its validity ceases to be an option.
The term "Anti-Semitic" is considered sufficient unto itself.
But is it? Consider what the epithet actually says. It implies that the critic of Israel is really anti-Jewish, someone deeply and emotionally and murderously (the Holocaust always lurks in the background) prejudiced against all Jews. What this obscures is the existence of several logical operations that are conflated into the one term: to be critical of the state of Israel is of necessity to be anti-Semitic, which is to be anti-Jewish, which is to want all Jews, including those in Israel, to be wiped out. But as Lilienthal and others have pointed out again and again, Israel is not synonymous with Judaism. Israel is a nation-state, the product of a 19th century political movement known as Zionism, which took full advantage of western political atonement for the Nazi extermination program during World War II. By contrast, Judaism is a religion, the monotheistic religion of an originally nomadic people who once inhabited a territory in the Middle East. Since the majority of the people who live in this part of the world are said to be Semitic, that is, related by the languages and cultures known as Semitic, then it follows that Semites are the people, mainly Jews and Arabs, who live in or derive from this area.
So far so good. Jews and Arabs are both Semites. But what is not generally acknowledged or understood when "anti-Semite" is used, is that fully ninety percent of the people known as Semites are Arabs, which means that only ten percent are Jews. More importantly, as Lilienthal pointed out years ago, even that ten percent are not really Semitic at all. Most Jews today, he says, could never find Semitic ancestors in the Holy Land, for the simple reason that ninety percent of the world's Jews are descended from converts to Judaism, mostly the Khazars in what is now the southern USSR. The Khazars accepted Judaism as their monotheistic faith. They did not have the remotest connection with the Semites of the Holy Land.
This is fundamental to the term's legitimacy. If most Jews, including most Israelis, derive both culturally and genetically from eastern Europe, which they do, then to be "anti-Semitic" is actually to be prejudiced not primarily against Jews, but against Arabs. That is, those who now, today, act or think in ways that are literally "anti-Semitic" are mainly the European-derived Israelis themselves. Or rather, those, and they are by no means unanimous, or all living in Israel, who implement and support the Zionist policies of the Israeli government.
Such an understanding of the word Semite, and the way in which "anti-Semitism" has come to be employed raises serious questions not only about the term's proper use today, but also about the history obscured behind it. If the term "anti-Semitic" is routinely used to close off debate about policies that are themselves literally "directed against Semites" native to the place, what are we to conclude about those policies? Why is it so forbidden to openly discuss them, or the historic events and decisions that led to them? Why is criticism of those policies and that history so quickly equated with the act that has come to symbolize universal evil?
All one can infer is that a great many people must have a great many terrible truths they want to keep hidden. One of which concerns the real anti-Semitism, with its deadly consequences for actual Semites, that reigns in our time.
copyright © 2003 Lawrence DiStasi
Lawrence DiStasi is the author of several books, most recently Una Storia Segreta: The Secret History of Italian American Evacuation and Internment During World War II (Heyday Books: 2001). He is a board member of the Before Columbus Foundation, newsletter editor of the American Italian Historical Association, Western Regional Chapter, and project director of the traveling exhibit Una Storia Segreta: When Italian Americans Were "Enemy Aliens."
Alfred Lilienthal, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 14, 1986, p. 11.
The term "neocons" refers to neoconservatives like Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, Richard Feith and others in and out of the Bush Administration, who have been criticized recently for advancing a US policy that seems designed by Israel, and who have slashed back at their critics as "anti-Semitic."
Zionists have also taken advantage of imperial strategies in the middle east, colluding with successive imperialist powers, including the British and now the American, in order to advance their unswerving intention for a complete takeover of Palestine (see note v, below). This usually aligns Zionists with conservative policies and positions, such as that of Ariel Sharon and the Likud party, and in opposition to the many Jewish intellectuals, both American and Israeli, aligned more traditionally with the left. Lilienthal, op cit.
For a brief but illuminating look at those events by an Israeli scholar who has studied them, see Dr. Ilan Pappe, of Haifa University, who, in "The '48 Nakba and the Zionist Quest for Its Completion," Between the Lines, October 30, 2002, wrote: "Two means were used in order to change the reality in Palestine, and impose the Zionist interpretation on the local reality: the dispossession of the indigenous population from the land and its re-populating with newcomers - i.e. settlement and expulsion," and, "the only way to fulfill the dream of Zionism is to empty the land of its indigenous population." The indigenous population Pappe refers to, of course, is Palestinian and fully Semitic.