Todd L. Pittinsky’s article (“Opinion: Why I don’t love ‘Jew hate’ as a substitute for ‘antisemitism’,” July Chronicle) fails to persuade me that “antisemitism” serves as a more effective term than “Jew hate.”
Pittinsky’s thoughtful article reminds us that we need to think carefully about the ways in which we use language. He deserves recognition for asking us to consider the subtle definitions of words, the purposes of words, and the effects of words on others and ourselves.
That said, I reach different conclusions, using much the same reasoning as Pittinsky. Thus, I remain unconvinced and I prefer the term “Jew hate.”
Above all, I use the term, because, as Pittinsky notes, “the phrase packs a punch.” I employ the phrase precisely because it is jarring. Often, in my experience, the word “antisemitism” simply does not convey the notion that Jew hatred represents a vicious form of bigotry.
Another reason for preferring “Jew hate” to “antisemitism” relates to the term’s historical origins. Wilhelm Marr, a socialist and notorious German Jew hater, popularized “antisemitism” in the late-nineteenth century.
Why does this matter? It matters because the term was employed to obscure viciousness and caught on with Jew haters. Marr discovered that espousing “antisemitism” carried with it pseudo-scientific credibility and social acceptance. The highbrows in Germany’s intellectual salons agreed, finding “Jew hatred” too obvious and, well, jarring. “Antisemitism” gave their bigotry a credibility that “Jew hate” never could.
Furthermore, “antisemitism” is simply imprecise. When “Semite” is properly employed as a noun, it refers not specifically to Jews, but generally to speakers of Semitic languages. Antisemitism is a meaningless notion when applied to speakers of Arabic or Amharic and fails to convey the intended meaning.
While Pittinsky prefers “antisemitism” on account of its inclusivity (e.g., as a way of indicating not only bigotry, but ignorance, apathy, and even dangerous admiration toward Jews), I eschew the term for exactly the same reason.
Pittinsky makes many excellent points, but I respectfully disagree. I will persist in favoring the term “Jew hate.”
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Associate Professor Eric D. Pullin is with the department of history and Asian studies program at Carthage College in Kenosha.