The transformation of ‘anti-Semitism’

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In recent years, right-wing Israeli political leaders and their supporters have warned of the rise of a “new anti-Semitism”, rife across Europe and in left-wing political circles. The new anti-Semites are critics of Israel. They don’t target Jews; they target the Jewish state. (I say “they” but of course I should say “we” because I too would surely be branded as being among the ranks of this hateful group.)

Still, this term “new anti-Semitism” hasn’t really caught on. Instead, something much more significant has happened: the term “anti-Semitic” has taken on new meaning not because it actually has a new meaning but because what it signals has become more important than what it targets.

Glenn Greenwald warns that those who so freely scream “anti-Semite” are “cheapening and trivializing ‘anti-semitism’ to the point of irrelevance.”

Joe Klein has called on his friend Leon Wieseltier to apologize to Andrew Sullivan for suggesting that the latter had shown “venomous hostility toward Israel and Jews.” Wieseltier didn’t use the word anti-Semite, but the insinuation was transparent.

A shift has indeed taken place and it is not merely that the charge of anti-Semitism has become so overused that it is losing its meaning, it is this:

The new anti-Semitism does not identify expanding ranks of Jew-haters; it signals a new class of hysterical and hateful Jews.

Anti-Semitism no longer points at its intended target; it points at itself.

This is a cross-post from Woodward’s site, War in Context.

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