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Anti-Semitism, stupidity, inevitability

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Joe Klein is usually a smart guy who at times says really, really dumb things.

Look, I agree with him overall on why describing Rashid Khalidi as an “anti-Semite” is scurrilous, but why – why why why why why – did he have to revive the really, really dumb dictum about how Arabs can’t be anti-Semites, because, goshdarnit, they are Semites?

(More on the Khalidi wars here.)

You know the argument, it cropped up in college after one too many beers/bong hits/body slams, and then the slightly addled girl in the corner who starts every sentence with “Point being” says, “Point being, if Arabs are Semites how can they be anti-Semites?” and you have to explain, all the while thinking to yourself, “this party has gone on way too long, and a statement this stupid was inevitable, and I should have ducked out when Steve said he was going home and offered me a lift….”

Except this election is inescapable, and so now we have to deal with this inevitability.

So:

1) I’m not sure what the linguistic term is (help me out people), but prefixes and suffixes can subtly reshape the meaning of a word’s core. One does not call a sane person “hinged,” but “unhinged” would commonly mean “nuts” and is not usually applied to broken doors. So, maybe (see 3 below) “Semites” can accurately describe Jews and Arabs, but anti-Semite applies strictly to Jew-haters.

2) Even if it didn’t, one can hate one’s own. (Do blacks suffer through this stupidity? I mean, do African Americans have to deal with black writers who say “Uncle Tom is no Uncle Tom, because Uncle Tom is, well, Uncle Tom!”?)

3) “Semitic” legitimately describes language, not DNA. Klein’s argument implies a legitimacy to the most malodorous definition of “Semite.” It’s unwitting, I’m sure, and I’m not saying Klein thinks in terms of race – I’m sure he does not. But you’d think he’d think this kind of thing through.

“He can’t be an anti-Semite, he’s a Semite” is too often an escape clause, a means of allowing haters to get away with hating. Does Klein believe Egyptians who publish “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” should get a pass? Syrians who perpetuate the blood libel?

Maybe it was easy blog shorthand, but it didn’t do Khalidi any favors. So let me freelance a suggestion.

Instead of

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

What if Klein tried:

I’ve never met Rashid Khalidi, but I’ve reviewed his writings, and nothing suggests an embrace of racist Jewish stereotypes or a rejection of the tenets of Judaism or of Jewish existence. In fact, although he identifies with a people engaged in a national struggle with the Jewish state, and while he has erred toward Palestinian nationalist dogma, what is notable is that he has done so in terms that are sympathetic to Jewish exigencies.

Wordy? You betcha! But don’t we all emerge just a little smarter?

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