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May 05, 2004

Zogby In the Arab News

In today's Arab News John Zogby opposes anti-Semitism, as long as it's being directed at Arabs.

WASHINGTON, 5 May 2004 — The Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) conference on anti-Semitism completed its first meeting without addressing the problem in its totality.

It seems that in a horrible oversight they only addressed anti-Semitism directed at Jews, completely skipping over the anti-Semitism directed against Arabs. It's true that both peoples are considered Semitic, but in general the term "anti-Semitism" is limited to Jews, such as implied in these definitions.

anti-Semitism: The agitation in European countries to oppose the commercial, political, and financial influence of the Jews. – New Catholic Dictionary

anti-Semitism: 1. Hostility toward or prejudice against Jews or Judaism.
2. Discrimination against Jews. – American Heritage Dictionary

anti-Semitism: Opposition to, or hatred of, Semites, esp. Jews. – Webster's Revised Dictionary

anti-Semitism: : the intense dislike for and prejudice against Jewish people – WordNet

But then again, the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee has been demanding that Merriam Webster change their definition of anti-Semitism so as not to include opposition to Zionism. Of course Robert Fisk also has problems with Webster's definition, but then Robert Fisk just plain has problems. But let's get back to Zogby.

There are, in fact, two anti-Semitisms. One has historically found expression in the hatred and vilification of the Jewish people; the other has manifested itself in the equally odious hatred and vilification of Arabs and Muslims.

We must've missed all that when we were coining the word. Maybe we need six words, one for each of the acts of hating Jews as a race, hating Judaism as a religion, hating those who practice Judaism, hating Arabs as a race, and hating Islam as a religion, and hating Muslims. We already have Islamophobia, so why do we need to stretch definitions of words that are already understood?

A decade ago I was asked to speak on this subject at a special conference organized by Hebrew University. In light of the just completed conference, I offer a summary of my remarks.

Boy, the didn't invite him back very quickly after that one, did they?

Historically, the animus of anti-Semitism directed against both Arabs and Jews has been the same. It has been a largely Western Christian struggle against two Semitic civilizations – one that it found living within its midst and that it saw as an internal threat; the other that it confronted as an external challenge but that it similarly defined as a threat to its survival.

That threat might be noted in the invasion of much of Christendom, such as Byzantium, Egypt, much of south-eastern Europe, and Spain, for example. On top of this is the continued insistence that all lands containing Muslims be put under sharia rule, with taxes on non-Muslims, etc. I've yet to hear any Jews go to a European country and then demand it be ruled only according to Jewish law.

Both Jews and Arab Muslims were perceived as threats — their organizations, their wealth, and even their corporate identities were seen as damaging to the West. And the results have been devastating to both peoples. Both groups have suffered a history of vilification and both have endured campaigns of systematic violence.

There's an Arab Muslim corporate identity? Do tell. But the Europeans have been paranoid about Jewish wealth or influence, but not a bit about vast hordes of scimitar wielding Jews coming to sack their churches. A little further on Zogby gets back to his main theme.

In the wake of the horrors of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism against Jews is now recognized for what it is — hateful prejudice. We have yet to learn this lesson when it comes to Arabs and Islam.

Anti-Semitism was often regarded as hateful prejudice before the Holocaust, but people didn't understand what such things could lead to, such as hooded hooligans who want to push Israel into the sea and kill all the Jews.

When non-Arabs and non-Muslims react to anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotypes with the same outrage they display toward anti-Jewish bigotry, then we will be on the path to burying the “other anti-Semitism.”

And that'll come after Arabs and Muslims quit reading the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" at the airport, and dancing in the streets everytime a Jewish baby gets blown up.

What I wrote a decade ago remains relevant, but there are a number of new and troubling facts to this problem that must also be considered in this discussion.

I'd hope the whole vast War on Terror would figure in to his update, but I'm not holding my breath.

Firstly, though inevitable, it is nevertheless profoundly tragic that the two historic victims of this anti-Semitic bigotry have fallen prey to embracing and utilizing it in their respective political discourses.

Ooo… He said discourse. He's also desperately trying to lay claim to "victim" status for acts that were directed against Jews.

When an Israeli Rabbi refers to Arabs as “vermin” or “poisonous snakes” that is anti-Semitism.

Damn those anti-Semitic Rabbis!

When either side speaks of the “other” as a guilty collective or identifies the other side as possessing innate negative traits — as in “Jews are untrustworthy” or “Arabs are prone to violence” — that is anti-Semitism. It is wrong for Americans and Europeans to speak this way and it is just as disturbing when Arabs and Jews use such language as well.

Has he seen the polls of how many Palestinians support blowing up Jewish kids on buses? When you've got swaths of people who've signed on to a conspiratorial death cult, they really do become a target of derision, and rightfully so.

Secondly, there are some in the West who want to stretch the definition of anti-Semitism in an effort to silence legitimate political criticism of the policies in the State of Israel.
And there are some who want to stretch the definition to include Arabs, obviously just so they can portray themselves as victims of anti-Semitism instead of the main perpetrators.
They insist that any singling out of Israel is motivated by an anti-Jewish animus. Recent charges of anti-Semitism against UN Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Mary Robinson (the Nobel Prize winner) both of whom recently criticized Israeli occupation are examples of this terrible abuse of the anti-Semitism charge for political purposes.

Oh sure, they just hate Jews in their spare time. Here's a link to the Mary Robinson controversy. I mean, just because she says the Palestinians have a right to kill Jews doesn't make her anti-Semitic, now does it? And of course although Lakhdar Brahimi boasts "that he has never knowingly shaken hands with an Israeli or a Jew," surely he's not anti-Semitic either.

In this context, Secretary of State Colin Powell was correct to note that “it is not anti-Semitic to criticize the policies of the state of Israel, but the line is crossed when Israel’s leaders are demonized and vilified by the use of Nazi symbols or racist caricatures.”

Oh, and who can we think of that does that? Anyone? Bueller? Well, I mean aside from Ted Rall.

True enough — but the same yardstick should also be applied to the “other anti-Semitism” as well. All too often the language used to demonize Yasser Arafat is nothing more than vile, hate-filled bigotry. In other words, anti-Semitism.

It's anti-Semitic to call Arafat an embezzling terrorist thug and shit stain on the face of humanity? Yikes! I just said that, didn't I? But in short, Zogby and others want to redefine anti-Semitism so Arabs can claim to be the victims instead of the perpetrators. The trouble with this is that the reasons someone might hate Jews are very different, if not almost opposite, the reasons that they would dislike the Arabs, and to stretch a word into covering almost opposite sets of beliefs removes its meaning, specificity, and importance. The words anti-Arab or anti-Muslim already cover exactly the emotions and actions he objects to, and we don't need to ruin a perfectly good word just so he can feel doubly "victimized". That's his problem, not ours.

May 5, 2004 in Politics | Permalink


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Still repeating the oft-disproven lie about the Jenin 'massacre', I see.

Posted by: ebastidge at May 6, 2004 9:31:15 AM

Fisk is repeating that lie again, I meant to say.

So, is it Anti-Semitism to call Saddam Hussein a Nazi? Even though Ba'athism is the National Socialist (NAZI) party? What about other Arabs who belong to the respective National Socialist parties of their own countries? Or those who believe in Pan-Arab National Socialism? Is that Anti-Semitism?

I mean, granted- Arabs and Jews are all what is classically referred to as Semitic. In biblical terms, they are the descendants of Noah's son Shem. But no one I know uses the term Anti-Semite to refer to anyone but a Joooo-hater.

On to other points by Zogby- yes, the Jews have often been portrayed as an insidious influence from within society, with their supposed wealth and shadowy power. But what I don't get is his refereence to Arab wealth, an artifact of post-WWII need for oil. Arab wealth is a recent circumstance and they've failed miserably at being wealthy- much like the increasingly conventional wisdom that lottery winners can't handle their money and end up filing bankruptcy within a year or two of hitting the big one. There's plenty of reason to ridicule Arab culture without necessarily feeling threatened by it.

On the other hand, as George points out, there IS the slight consideration of the violent history of the spread of Islam. Cry as they want about the Crusades, the Crusade came AFTER the invasion of Europe and subsequent decadent (as in 'turned inward and stagnated') decline of Arab/Islamic culture. The Jews adapted to the societies they lived in, Arabs tried to remake them in their own image- not contribute to them, as in America's melting pot concept, but completely reforge them in an inflexible mold.

Posted by: Thebastidge at May 6, 2004 9:45:48 AM