Jeremy Corbyn is currently enduring yet another well-organised smear campaign based on his alleged support for “anti-Semitism”. Although the allegation is too ridiculous for words, the smear campaign is nevertheless enjoying some success for two main reasons, each of which is pretty serious – yet neither one has any rational foundation that’s capable of withstanding even basic critical examination.
- What’s in a word?
The first, and arguably most relevant reason, is the widespread misunderstanding of the expression “anti-Semitism”. Consider the most significant part of the expression – Semitism. This obviously derives from the word “Semite”. The 1993 edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defined “Semite” as follows:
A member of any of the peoples supposedly descended from Shem, son of Noah (Gen 10:21-31) including esp. the Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians.
So just twenty five years ago the expression anti-Semitism could have referred to the showing of prejudice against tens of millions of people stretching from North Africa to Iraq. Then something quite peculiar happened. According to Stephen Sedley, writing for the London Review of Books:
In May 2016 the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental body, adopted a ‘non-legally-binding working definition of anti-Semitism’: ‘Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and…