When Mr. Mohammad ruminated at the HBO screening about the word “Semites”, he seemed to be suggesting that Jews had somehow co-opted the phrase “Anti-Semite” excluding Arabs and Africans.
From what I’ve read the term SEMITIC was first coined by a German linguist
at the end of the 18th century to describe the languages spoken by the
wandering tribes who settled in the heart of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley in
Mesopotamia in the late second millennium B.C. Later, SEMITE came to refer
to these people. Both terms derive from the name of Noah’s son Shem, who
was said to be the ancestor of the Assyrians, Arameans, Israelites, and
The word "anti-Semitic" has a different history.
A German political agitator, Wilhelm Marr, used the phrase to mean Jew-hatred
or Judenhass, in his book "The Way to Victory of Germanicism over Judaism" in
1879. Marr's book became very popular, and in the same year he founded the
"League of Anti-Semites" ("Antisemiten-Liga"), the first German organization
committed specifically to combatting the alleged threat to Germany posed by
the Jews, and advocating their forced removal from the country.
If you want to try and redefine “anti-Semitism” so it includes other Semites, good luck. But don’t blame the Jews for stopping you. For over a hundred years it has been the Jew Haters who have made it exclusive by describing themselves as “Anti Semites.”
The HBO discussion certainly highlighted the power of words and different
people’s sensitivity to how they are used. It led me to do some further
research. If a Semite is someone descended from Shem, the eldest son of
Noah, then what is a Hebrew?
A HEBREW is someone descended from Heber (or, "Eber"), one of the
great-grandsons of Shem. Six generations after Heber, Abraham was born to
this line, so Abraham was both a Hebrew and a Semite, born of the line of
Heber and Shem.
Ishmael was the son of Abraham and Hagar, the servant of Abraham’s wife,
Sarah. Arabs consider themselves to be descendants of Ishmael, so they
could be both Semitic and Hebrews. (Jews, Christians, and Muslims all
consider themselves to be children of Abraham.) In her old age Sarah
miraculously gave Abraham a son, Isaac. Isaac had a son, Jacob, whose name
was later changed to "Israel," meaning "to prevail.” He fathered 12 sons.
His sons and their descendants (12 tribes) are called Israelites. One of
Jacob-Israel's children was Judah (Hebrew - Yehudah). His descendants were
called Yehudim ("Judahites") from which comes the modern shortened form,
Finally there is the charged word, “Zionism,” which comes from the word
“Zion.” The origin of the word Zion is obscure. It is one of the stranger
words in the Hebrew language, meaning at one and the same time, both a place and an idea. Even the place identified as Zion has changed with time. Originally identified with a Jebusite (Canaanite) citadel, conquered by David, it eventually became a concept referring to the entire homeland and
spiritual capital. In Psalm 137 the exiles in Babylon at the beginning of the sixth century B.C. weep as they “remember Zion.” Over two millennium later, those words still had extraordinary power as demonstrated by the reggae singer Jimmy Cliff, who used them in the song “By the Rivers of
One of the Moslem women at the screening was upset at Rabbi Cooper for using the term “Islamicist” to refer to Moslem terrorists. She asked for an apology. Some felt the Rabbi offered a half-hearted apology, others praised him for taking part in the panel as an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi.
What is the appropriate term to refer to militant Moslems who condone
terrorism? President Bush used Islamo-fascist in his most recent speech.
Others use “Jihadist.” Another person pointed out that even the words
“fundamentalist” or “true believer” were inappropriate in the discussion
since there are fundamentalists and true believers who are peaceful.
This was an important discussion and would not have taken place if we had
not been open to all kinds of people coming to the screening. If we can’t
have this dialogue here in New York City, how do we ever expect the Sunnis
and the Shiites and the Kurds to work things out in Iraq?
New York City symbolizes the creative chaos and mix of all humanity. On
these streets you realize we’re all related and we’re a mix of all the
peoples and cultures that have come before. While racial purists preach inbreeding and de-evolution, science has demonstrated that evolution depends on gene mixing. The very idea of a universal divinity resides in the mystery of the human mix.
The great irony of so many zealots is that they are all really the same.
The all believe they alone have the key to divine direction. Whatever faith
they preach, they really all share separatism, exclusivism, and inerrancy as
the basic tenets of their belief system. These are the ingredients of holy
hate and sacred violence. I wish they could all be put on an island to
compete in a real life game of Survivor. Let the world witness whose side
God is really on.
Remember the words of St. Augustine, “If you can comprehend it, it is not