Our friends at the Jewish Insider reported this week that The New York Times has changed its style guide to favor “antisemitism” over “anti-Semitism.” According to NYT Associate Managing Editor for Standards Phil Corbett, the change was made in August this year but was never announced.
So, how do you prefer your Jew-hatred, with or without the hyphen?
According to German-Jewish historian Alex Bein, the compound ‘anti-Semitism’ appears to have been used first in 1860 by Moritz Steinschneider, who challenged French Orientalist and Semitic scholar Ernest Renan’s views on Jews which he dubbed “anti-Semitic prejudices.”
Here’s a delightful example of those views, in the best scientific logic of the 19th Century, on the persecution of Jews:
When all nations and all ages have persecuted you, there must be some motive behind it all. The Jew, up to our own time, insinuated himself everywhere, claiming the protection of the common law; but, in reality, remaining outside the common law. He retained his own status; he wished to have the same guarantees as everyone else, and, over and above that, his own exceptions and special laws. He desired the advantages of the nations without being a nation, without helping to bear the burdens of the nations. No people has ever been able to tolerate this. The nations are military creations founded and maintained by the sword; they are the work of peasants and soldiers; towards establishing them the Jews have contributed nothing. Herein is the great fallacy inspired in Israelite pretensions. The tolerated alien can be useful to a country, but only on condition that the country does not allow itself to be invaded by him. It is not fair to claim family rights in a house which one has not built, like those birds which come and take up their quarters in a nest which does not belong to them, or like the crustaceans which steal the shell of another species.
Israeli clinical psychologist and historian (you really should engage both professions to deal with this one) Avner Falk wrote: “The German word antisemitisch was first used in 1860 by the Austrian Jewish scholar Moritz Steinschneider (1816–1907) in the phrase antisemitische Vorurteile (antisemitic prejudices). Steinschneider used this phrase to characterize the French philosopher Ernest Renan’s false ideas about how ‘Semitic races’ were inferior to ‘Aryan races.'”
This new way of describing Jew-hatred also generated a curious but inevitable issue of there being so many Arab antisemites out there, even though Arabs certainly belong to the family of Semites, and as such would be counted as antisemitic Semites. To this day, Arabs who promote the annihilation of Jews worldwide claim innocently that they’re not antisemites because, hey, how can Semites in good standing like them possibly be antisemitic?
This is why, in 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) suggested that the hyphenated spelling allows for the possibility of a thing called “Semitism,” which “not only legitimizes a form of pseudo-scientific racial classification that was thoroughly discredited by association with Nazi ideology, but also divides the term, stripping it from its meaning of opposition and hatred toward Jews.”
The IHRA attributes the creation of the term ‘antisemitism’ to German journalist Wilhelm Marr, in 1879 (two decades after Moritz Steinschneider) to designate anti-Jewish campaigns, and it was spread through use by anti-Jewish political movements and the general public.
“Although the historically new word only came into common usage in the nineteenth century, the term antisemitism is today used to describe and analyze past and present forms of opposition or hatred towards Jews,” according to the IHRA, which notes that “in German, French, Spanish and many other languages, the term was never hyphenated.”
In an April 29, 2020 webinar with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust scholar and now the United States Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism, Deborah Lipstadt, said she didn’t spell the word “anti-Semitism” with a hyphen, “because anti-Semitism is not hatred of Semitism or Semites … anti-Semitism is Jew-hatred.”
By the way, Lipstadt’s favorite spreader of the term in question was journalist Friedrich Wilhelm Adolph Marr, who is defined by the Online Etymology Dictionary as a “German agitator and publicist, who popularized the term antisemitism.”
The ADL says it has adopted the spelling of “antisemitism” instead of “anti-Semitism” after reviewing the history and consulting with other leading experts, following which “we’ve determined that this is the best way to refer to hatred toward Jews.”
They end with this astute statement: “While removing a hyphen by itself won’t defeat antisemitism, we believe this slight alteration will help to clarify understanding of this age-old hatred.”
And so, when you and I come home from the next pogrom, God forbid, and our loved ones ask us what happened, we should tell them: “Oh, we were beaten up by a bunch of antisemites,” and not “Oh, we were beaten up by a bunch of anti-Semites.”