What is Anti-Semitism? Is it a real phenomenon? Or is it just a verbal lightning rod? The proverbial political accusation or a very real crime against humanity? I ask because we hear this term thrown around rather loosely - and usually incorrectly. Defined as "hostility toward or discrimination against Jews," the term anti-Semitism carries with it stinging implications. When we witness an analysis of the Apartheid State, when we hear the actions of Jewish people criticized, when we advocate for the human rights of Palestinians - cries of anti-Semitism are not far behind. This is not only a matter of intellectual dishonesty but also one of cultural expropriation.
Let's start with the term ‘Semite’. What is a Semite? What does Semitic mean? Semitic was first used in reference to a family of languages native to Southwest Asia and Northeast Africa. These languages include Arabic, Phoenician, Syriac, Aramaic, Hebrew, Maltese and Ugaritic, among others. The term ‘Semite’ refers to the ancient and modern ethnic groups (and their descendants) known to speak said languages. Not included among these groups are the Ashkenazi people who hail from Central and Eastern Europe. Not included among these groups are the Caucasians currently occupying Palestine. Not included among the Semitic peoples are the European colonizers and settlers living on stolen land. Semitic people are indigenous to Southwest Asia, not transplants to it.
That's correct. Those quickest to point the finger of anti-Semitism are not even Semites! Also correct, that condemnation of the European colonial settlement known as Israel is not anti-Semitism. Nor is it anti-Semitic to boycott, divest and sanction the racist regime. Nor are our comrades resisting the criminal occupation of the West Bank to be labeled anti-Semites. Likewise, the ongoing struggle to end the inhumane siege of Gaza is not anti-Semitic.
So what is? Despite colonial efforts to transplant, Semitic people remain in the area still today. However, millions have been dispersed throughout the region and around the world, with many landing right here in the Western hemisphere as a result of the African slave trade – a notorious crime of anti-Semitism indeed. Right along with the three-fifths rule, Fugitive Slave Laws, the Dred Scott decision, Jim Crow, the Tuskegee Experiment, Black Codes, lynching, COINTELPRO, mass incarceration, Stop & Frisk – these are anti-Semitic! The occupation of Lebanon, the invasion of Iraq, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine – these are anti-Semitic! Resistance against these crimes is very much a part of the beautiful struggle for human dignity, which has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.