Anti-Semitism

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also spelled antisemitism, anti-semitism and anti-Semitism) is hostile and/or prejudicial feeling or action expressing rejection of, or hatred toward persons of Jewish faith as a group, class or "race,” especially in the exercise of any of their human rights. Although religion is not a basis for "racial discrimination” in international law,[1] anti-Semitic positions and acts are generally considered racist and, therefore, morally objectionable. While anti-Semitism may be variously motivated, it finds its Western origins in early Christianity, particularly attributed to the position and teachings of Paul the Apostle.[2]

The compound word Antisemitismus ("antisemitism”) was first used in print in Germany by Moravian bibliographer and Orientalist Moritz Steinschneider in 1879.[3] It was coined as a scientific-sounding term for Judenhass (hatred of Jews). While the root word Semite gives the impression that antisemitism is directed against all Semitic peoples, e.g., including Arabs, Arameans and Assyrians, deriving from Biblical terminology for descendants of Shem, one of the three sons of the mythical Noah, as South Arabian god of "human settlement” and depicted as a prophet in the Book of Genesis. In this largely obsolete usage, Semites are different from the descendants of Noah’s sons Ham and Japhet (i.e., Hamites and Japhetites). However, Semites is habitually used in reference to persons of Jewish faith, regardless of their ethnicity.


[1]   Defined as ",” International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 4 January 1965, adopted and opened for signature and ratification by General Assembly resolution 2106 (XX) of 21 December 1965, entry into force 4 January 1969, at: https://ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CERD.aspx.

[2]   Pamela Eisenbaum, "Is Paul the Father of Misogyny and Antisemitism?” CrossCurrents, Vol. 50, No. 4, (winter 2000/2001), pp. 506–24; Manfred Gerstenfeld, "The Origins of Christian Anti-Semitism,” No. 81, an interview with Prof. Pieter van der Horst, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 5 May 2009, at: https://jcpa.org/article/the-origins-of-christian-anti-semitism/; Harold E. Paul Littleton, Jr., A Would Be Apostle: The Roots of Christian Anti-judaism and Christian Anti-semitism, Vol. 2 (Founders of the Faith) (Createspace, 2014); "Christian-Jewish Relations: The Early Church and the Beginnings of Anti-Semitism, Jewish Gates, as cited in The Virtual Jewish Library, at: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-early-church-and-the-beginnings-of-anti-semitism.

[3]   Stein Schneider was writing to rebut and article by Ernst Renan. "New Considerations on the General Character of the Semitic Peoples, in Particular Their Tendency toward Monotheism,” in which Renan acknowledged the importance of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Israel, but considered their inhabitant Semitic "races” inferior to the Aryan because of their monotheism, arising from supposed lustful, violent, unscrupulous and selfish racial instincts. German philologist and philosopher Heymann Steinthal summarized Renan’s predispositions as "Semitism,” and so Steinschneider characterized Renan’s ideas as "anti-Semitic prejudice,” i.e., Antisemitismus. See Alex Bein, The Jewish Question: Biography of a World Problem (: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990), p. 594.

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