December 14, 2019

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It’s Easier To Launch Semantic Tangents Such As ‘Arabs Are Semites Too’ Than Address Arab Antisemitism (PreOccupied Territory)
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It’s Easier To Launch Semantic Tangents Such As ‘Arabs Are Semites Too’ Than Address Arab Antisemitism

By Rebecca Goldsmith, If Not Now activist
woman portraitI always counsel my pro-Palestine allies to keep the focus of rhetoric on Islamophobic manifestations and anti-Muslim violence, especially from Israel, but it can be hard to maintain that focus when others bring up Arab enmity toward Jews. That’s why my go-to tactic always involves dismissing such points with a wave of the hand and the assertion that since Arabs are also Semites, calling them antisemites makes no sense.

This rhetorical move leaves opponents confused, which gives us the opportunity to seize the initiative once again and return to blasting Israel for its racism and brutality. Better to silence them with historical incoherence than have to confront any justice to Jewish fears of Arab violence.

Now, anyone with even minimal education in the subject already knows that the term “antisemitism” always refers specifically to hatred toward Jews; the term itself was coined in nineteenth-century Germany as a euphemism because “hatred toward Jews” just sounds bad. Including Arabs in the mix only muddles the issue, but that is where we strike: in the muddle. A coherent argument is the worst enemy of a cause that rests primarily on emotionally charged distortions.

Anyone with slightly more than a minimal education also knows that the term “Semitic” refers to languages, not ethnicities; the Semitic group of language, which includes both Hebrew and Arabic, forms part of the larger Afro-Asiatic family of languages, meaning that a speaker of Arabic speaks a Semitic language, but that has no bearing on ancestry or race. As it appears in the term “antisemite,” the term replaces the linguistic sense with a racial one. With just a little rhetorical sleight of hand, presto, Arabs are Semites too, and Zionists have no argument!

Good thing we have that tool available, too, because it’s less convincing to deny centuries of Arab persecution of Jews than to undermine the way it’s framed. The idea is not to concede any legitimacy to the notion of Jewish sovereignty as a necessity, lest the entire conceptual edifice of destroying Israel for the sake of everyone involved suffer irreparable damage. Regardless of our contention that Jews and Arabs lived harmoniously until Zionism, getting involved in a discussion of whether Jews suffered as an underclass at the hands of Arabs distracts from the essential point, so better to dismiss it with sophistry.

And you know I have credibility on this issue because I identify as a Jew and a Jew can’t be antisemitic either.

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