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The Anti-Semantic Joe Klein

Joe Klein is defending Rashid Khalidi from charges of anti-Semitism, and I, for one, am fine with that, as I’ll explain in a moment. What I’m not fine with — what I can’t actually believe — is this line from … Read More

By / October 31, 2008

Joe Klein is defending Rashid Khalidi from charges of anti-Semitism, and I, for one, am fine with that, as I’ll explain in a moment. What I’m not fine with — what I can’t actually believe — is this line from Joe’s blog: 

 I’ve never met Rashid Khalidi, but he is (a) Palestinian and therefore (b) a semite, so the charge of anti-semitism is fatuous.

I want to be absolutely clear that I’m not about to accuse Joe of being an anti-Semite, but I will note that this the first time I’ve ever heard a Jewish person, or a non-anti-Semite, make this sort of malicious statement, one that perverts the universal meaning of a term in order to mock the phenomenon of Jew-hatred. "Jew-hatred" is actually my preferred term, because, as I’m sure Joe knows, "anti-Semitism" was a term invented by the avant-garde Jew-hater Wilhelm Marr, who was the founder, in 1879, of the League of Anti-Semites, which argued that Germans and Jews were locked in a death struggle for racial superiority. And we know where that ended.   Since Marr’s time, of course, the term has evolved from a compliment to an insult, but its meaning has held steady all these years. As I said, the only people who insult Jews by denying the meaning of the term are, in my experience, anti-Semitic. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, told me in an interview once that his organization could not be anti-Semitic, because Arabs were the true Semites, while Jews were simply European impostors. This interview occurred at a time when Yassin’s suicide bombers were systematically seeking out large groups of Jews in order to murder them for the crime of being Jewish. By Joe’s dangerous new standard, the World War II-era Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who was a Nazi fellow traveler and a frank advocate of total Jewish extermination, could not be called an anti-Semite because he was Arab. So, really, who’s being fatuous? I know that Joe derives great pleasure from criticizing Jewish supporters of the Iraq War — the Wolfowitzes, Perles and Feiths –in specifically Jewish terms, while never seeming to use the  Christianity of other supporters of the war, including Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, and other such marginal figures, against them. I don’t like the double-standard, but it’s part of the rough and tumble. However, emptying the term "anti-Semitism" of its accepted meaning in order to score points against John McCain? That’s simply too much. But about Khalidi — he’s a fierce partisan of the Palestinian cause, of course, and in my conversations with him, and in his writing, I see that his sympathies frequently cause him to  distort Middle East history. But an anti-Semite? I don’t think so. In fact, Rashid Khalidi is one of the rare Palestinian advocates who argues, as he has with me, that Arabs must study Jewish history, including and especially the history of Jew-hatred, in order to better understand Israel, and to reach a compromise with it. By the way, the term Rashid Khalidi uses, in speeches and in his books, to describe Jew-hatred? Anti-Semitism.   

Cross-posted from Goldberg’s Atlantic blog. 

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