This is my third blog on Haaretz and, looking back on how my first two articles appear on the website, there is something that I can't help but notice: a plague of hyphens, many more than I used when writing the articles, all separating the prefix "anti" from "semitism". It turns out that this was not, as I at first feared, a new form of punctuation virus that had infected my computer. It turns out that the Haaretz house style is for 'anti-Semitism'; at CST, we write it 'antisemitism'. Nu, you ask, so what's in a hyphen? 'Antisemitism' is more often found with the hyphen than without, and for many people this is probably unremarkable. But still, I find it discomforting, and I'll try to explain why. We see the hyphen often enough in political terminology: anti-racism, anti-globalisation, anti-vivisection, to name but three. In these examples (and most others I can think of) the 'anti' movement is a reaction against something that already exists: an idea or activity that is definable, recognizable and has a dynamic and purpose all of its own. Anti-racism is a reaction against racism, anti-vivisection is a movement to stop vivisection, and so on. So if this is the case, then what is 'Semitism'? 'Anti-Semitism' suggests that there is such a thing as 'Semitism', which, like other 'ism', exists in some identifiable form. This might be a set of ideas, a pattern of behaviour, a group of people, all defined by Jewishness, to which, crucially, antisemitism is a reaction. Wilhelm Marr, an anti-Jewish agitator in nineteenth century Germany, is generally credited with coining the term 'anti-Semitism'. He used it to describe what he saw as a racial struggle between Jews and Germans, based in blood, not religion, and incapable of being resolved through normal means. Marr used 'Semite' as a racial term for Jews, in order to give what was then called 'Judenhass' (Jew-hate) a pseudo-scientific veneer. For him, and for antisemites ever since, 'anti-Semitism' was and is a reaction to Jews. Antisemitism, though, is not really about Jews as real people. It is a self-contained belief system that bears no relation to actual Jewish behaviour, perfectly capable of thriving in environments where there are no Jews at all. Usually antisemitism has some utility. For some, like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, it serves a political purpose: he promotes Holocaust Denial to advance his position that Israel should not exist. For others, it has a psychological benefit, providing a scapegoat and explaining a complicated and frightening world by means of a giant secret conspiracy. This ideological antisemitism is more concerned with the abstract, hidden 'Big Jew' pulling the strings behind the scenes, than the ordinary Jewish family on your street. It is more specific - more Jew-obsessed - than the racist street thuggery and hate speech catalogued in CST's annual Antisemitic Incidents Reports. The picture is complicated further by the fact that 'Semitic' is a linguistic, not genetic, term for a group of languages including Hebrew, Arabic and others. Marr's misuse of the word to describe something solely relating to Jews has led others to widen its meaning, by using 'anti-Semitism' to describe anti-Arab or anti-Muslim prejudice. John Pilger, for one, often takes the opportunity to use the term in this way. This misuse of the term, removing it from its original meaning of a specifically anti-Jewish form of prejudice (and in the process denying anti-Jewish prejudice a specific name) can only be done with the hyphen. There have been attempts to move on completely from what is an imprecise and anachronistic term. Five years ago, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, in London, made the case for 'Judeophobia' as a word that "more accurately described... a manifest hostility towards Jews, rather than the propagation of the racial ideologies of the old antisemitism." But language only changes organically, through usage or lack of it, and at the moment there is no lack of antisemitism to talk and write about, and no evidence of a trend away from 'antisemitism' as the word to describe it. So it is time to drop the hyphen. This is, as I hope I have explained, more than just typographical pedantry. As Professor Shmuel Almog observed, "if you hyphenate your 'anti-Semitism', you attach some credence to the very foundation on which the whole thing rests. Strike out the hyphen and you will treat antisemitism for what it really is - a generic name for modern Jew-hatred."( By Dave Rich)
Dave Rich is Deputy Director of Communications for CST, which provides security and defense services to the U.K. Jewish community and advises government and police on anti-Semitism (antisemitism) and terrorism.