Are Anti-Semitic Arabs Self-Haters?

By Mark Nichol

A site visitor wrote to ask me why I didn’t call attention to the problematic term anti-Semitic, which I had used in a sample sentence to illustrate an unrelated error.

Why problematic?

The root of the root word is Semite, which refers to one of the three biblical divisions of people, each consisting of descendants of one of Noah’s sons: Shem, Ham, and Japeth. According to the tradition, Shem’s descendants are the Jews and the Arabs, though there is some overlap with the children of Ham, who also include the peoples of North Africa. Japeth’s offspring, meanwhile, populated Central Asia and Europe. (Where East Asians, South Asians, and black Africans come from is a bit muddled.)

By this definition, anti-Semitic would refer to prejudice against all the Semitic peoples, but that would mean that Arabs hostile to Jews (and Jews hostile to Arabs) would also be described as being hostile to themselves. (Can’t we all just get along?)

So, why do we use the term anti-Semitic to specifically describe antipathy to Jewish people, religion, and culture? In western Europe and in other countries settled primarily by people from there, most Semites they encountered were Jews, not Arabs, so the term became identified with the former.

How, exactly? In the late nineteenth century, a German racist introduced anti-Semitism in one of his rants to refer to his philosophy of hatred of Jews, and, like many repugnant ideas, it spread widely and rapidly. (To Wilhelm Marr’s credit, he later renounced and apologized for his anti-Semitic views. But the damage had been done.)

As a result, many people don’t realize that technically, Arabs are Semites, too. (And their languages, as well as Hebrew and others, are part of a language group called Semitic. In addition, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are collectively called the Semitic, or the Abrahamic, religions because they all derive from the same tradition.) But when it comes to racism, logic has no place. And now, even those who are not anti-Semitic in either sense of the word are stuck with a connotation that deviates from the literal meaning.

What can we do about it? Not much. You can write “antipathy to the Jews” or some other phrase to describe what most of us understand to mean “anti-Semitism,” or you can go with the flow, as we do with many other technically incorrect usages in English.

33 Responses to “Are Anti-Semitic Arabs Self-Haters?”

  • venqax

    Yes Greg, and the Lemba have FAR MORE sub-saharan African genetic markers than Middle Eastern ones. They are a black African people with a small amount of MidEast DNA preserved from a small immigrant population and, obviously, also a tremendous cultural heritage they have preserved from that group. Lots of culture, little biology. Don’t be a Carl and get involved in things you don’t understand. You can’t just “look” at someone and tell their genetic affiliation. Most seals have black skin. Trust me, you’re not that closely related and most of them aren’t from Africa.

  • Greg

    Did the ancient Egyptians have brown to black skin? Yes. Where the Egyptians referred to as ethiopians yes, did the Egyptians have kinky nappy hair they wore in Afros? Yes. Then the egyptians where black. I don’t need DNA to tell me that some one who looks like me comes from a similar stalk as me. Could the ancient Hebrews pass as Egyptian? Yes. That makes them black. And the term antisemitic is bull shit unless it includes all Semitic peoples and not just euro Jews. And check out the lemba Jews they came straight from israel after 70 ad and check out how they look like…funny thing is they stay under the sahara that makes them sub Saharan.

  • venqax

    An excellent article, with not understanding of genetics required:

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