Astute readers will notice a change in how we spell antisemitism, the word referring to a pathological hatred of Jews that, unfortunately, persists in our time.
We have stopped calling it anti-Semitism. The difference might appear subtle, but the meaning behind it is not.
As many experts have pointed out, the term “Semitic” was first coined by an 18th-century German historian to refer to linguistically related Middle Eastern languages, including Arabic and Hebrew. But one can speak a Semitic language and still hold antisemitic views, the Anti-Defamation League points out.
Ironically, the term “antisemitism” also has a German origin, invented by a late 19th-century journalist to describe hatred of a so-called Jewish “race.” The Nazis later picked up on the pseudo-science behind the word to bolster their false claim that Jews are a race, a foundation for Nazi ideology that clearly defined the hate as relating to Jews and only Jews.
Today, it’s mainly in the United States that one still finds the hyphen. Most of Europe uses “antisemitism.” It’s not hyphenated in Hebrew, either. So, in a sense, J. is joining the majority. Even the ADL, the venerable anti-hate organization, released a statement announcing that it was abandoning the hyphen. After “reviewing the history and consulting with other leading experts,” the statement said, “we have determined that this is the best way to refer to hatred toward Jews.”
Dropping the hyphen in antisemitism is also a political statement with a deeper cultural significance, similar to capitalizing the word Black, which we adopted last month to acknowledge the reality of a shared Black culture and heritage.
As the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance wrote in 2015 when it urged adoption of the one-word term, “At a time of increased violence and rhetoric aimed towards Jews, it is urgent that there is clarity and no room for confusion or obfuscation when dealing with antisemitism.”
We agree. Changing the word won’t get rid of the phenomenon. But it will make crystal clear what we are talking about.