November 19, 2008

Hasbara Buster masters the lingo

A friend asked me recently how come I've never linked to the Hasbara Buster blog. He very helpfully sent me a post that I missed when it first appeared and since it was back in September it no longer appears on the home page. So for those who come here but don't go there, a) go there and b) here's the post that so impressed my friend. It's headed, On the ambiguity of the English language and it goes like this:
As a native speaker of Spanish, I find certain subtle distinctions missing in English. Take, for instance, the verb to know; it may mean "to know a fact" or "to know someone." Spanish differentiates between both meanings, the words used being saber and conocer, respectively. Similarly, the verb to ask may mean "to ask a question" (Spanish: preguntar) or "to ask for something" (Spanish: pedir), and the verb to cry may mean "to cry out loud" (Spanish: gritar) or "to cry with tears" (Spanish: llorar). The native speaker of English may not even understand the need for separate words to cover the different meanings, but to someone who comes from another language the absence of these distinctions is startling.

In this post, I would like to discuss yet another English word that has separate and not necessarily related meanings: antisemite.

Before I continue I must say I don't dispute I'm an antisemite under the current definition of the word. Of all the peoples in the world, I want to deny the Jews, and only the Jews, the right to self-determination in their ancestral land. To that effect, I have singled out Israel for demonization (again: under the current definition of this word), and I have never written a single word about the plight of the Tibetans in China.

Of course, I could argue (wicked people always argue things) that I would deny other peoples self-determination under similar circumstances. I would oppose, for instance, the Gypsies returning to the place in Northern India they're supposed to come from and creating a country after displacing 700,000 Sikhs (or whatever). To give a real, not hypothetical, example, I opposed the Afrikaners' right to self-determination in South Africa after they grabbed the best lands for themselves and dumped the blacks into the bantustans of Venda, Ciskei, Transkei and Bophuthatswana. But these are moot points. Apartheid South Africa doesn't exist anymore, no member of the British nobility has ever promised the Gypsies a national homeland and the Brits have ceased to control India in any event. So that in practice my only problem is with the Jews' self-determination (as is currently exercised) and I'm an antisemite under the definition of several international bodies. There's no disputing that.

However, the word antisemite had an earlier meaning which continues to be in use. Many people, especially the younger generations, will be surprised to learn about it, but it's actually still being used. An antisemite used to be someone who hated the Jews as a whole. Those people would oppose having a Jewish neighbor, or their children marrying Jews. They would try to avoid working with Jews, they would never lend them money (allthough they might take loans from them), and they would support different forms of social and economic discrimination against Jews. Under the proper circumstances (war, invasions, crises, etc.), they would torch synagogues, loot Jewish property and actually kill Jews, or help those who undertook the killings.

These paleo-antisemites (let's neologize a bit) have by no means ceased to exist. Curiously, many of them don't oppose Jewish self-determination in Israel. In fact, I know quite a few Argentinian antisemites who would be very happy to see all Jews emigrating to Israel after having their citizenship revoked and their property confiscated.

Well, and here's my proposal: English needs separate words to describe these two different groups of people. It might be antisemite and contrasemite, for instance. Or antisemite and antihebrew. Or (gasp!) antisemite and anti-Zionist. With regard to the latter proposal, I don't oppose the word antisemite being used to describe me, and anti-Zionist to describe someone who beats a Jew because he's a Jew. (That is, I don't want to deprive anyone of the pleasure of calling me an antisemite; I don't mean to deny the Jewish people this right as well.)

But one thing is certain: the same word can't be used to describe both us, the ones who want to deny the Jews, and only the Jews, the right to self-determination, and them, the ones who only want to burn down synagogues, stab Jews and drive them out of their countries. It's simply not fair to them.
How's that for mastering the lingo? Well done, that hombre!!

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