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February 10, 2022 11:25 am

Encyclopedia Britannica Claims Arabs Cannot Be Called ‘Antisemitic,’ Backtracks Following Response

avatar by Rachel O'Donoghue


A general view shows the plaza of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, amid the coronavirus pandemic, May 6, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

Having first been published more than 250 years ago, the Encyclopedia Britannica currently exists as an online resource consisting of more than 100,000 articles that have purportedly been compiled using the “rich knowledge of renowned experts and forward-thinkers from around the world.”

But despite priding itself on “inspiring curiosity and the joy of learning,” the reference tome appears to be propagating some rather dubious information.

HonestReporting called out the Encyclopedia’s publishers after we noticed their particularly troubling definition of “anti-Semitism” — specifically, their claim that the term is “especially inappropriate as a label for the anti-Jewish prejudices, statements, or actions of Arabs and other Semites.”

The claim that Arab people cannot be called antisemitic is, of course, absurd.

For example, how would the author of this problematic encyclopedia entry classify the remarks of Hamas official Nasouh al-Ramini, who referred to Jews as the “descendants of pigs and apes”?

What about when a group of “Middle Eastern men” harassed Jewish youths celebrating Hannukah in London last year, spitting at them and performing Nazi salutes? Apparently, the word antisemitism cannot be applied to these individuals if one were to use Britannica’s definition.

Just 24 hours after we tagged Encyclopedia Britannica in our tweet, the entry was amended thus:

Although the term now has wide currency, it is a misnomer, since it implies a discrimination against all SemitesArabs and other peoples are also Semites, and yet they are not the targets of anti-Semitism as it is usually understood.

Still, the fact is that antisemitism is not a “misnomer” as the encyclopedia claims; it is a term that has only ever been understood to refer to the hatred of Jews.

According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA):

The philological term ‘Semitic’ referred to a family of languages originating in the Middle East whose descendant languages today are spoken by millions of people mostly across Western Asia and North Africa. Following this semantic logic, the conjunction of the prefix ‘anti’ with ‘Semitism’ indicates antisemitism as referring to all people who speak Semitic languages or to all those classified as ‘Semites’. The term has, however, since its inception referred to prejudice against Jews alone.” [emphasis added]

Furthermore, toward the end of Encyclopedia Britannica’s 4,000-word article on the subject, it provides readers with its estimation of the roots of present-day antisemitism among some Muslims and Arabs: namely, the establishment of Israel.

The author asserts that for centuries, Islamic societies “tolerated Jews” — although they treated Jews as subordinate by requiring them to wear special clothing and to pay anomalous taxes. The article then suggests that the “immigration of large numbers of Jews to Palestine in the 20th century and the creation of the State of Israel (1948) in a formerly Arab region aroused new currents of hostility within the Arab world.”

This passage is a misrepresentation of the truth: Arab hostility towards Jews long pre-dates Israel’s birth.

In 1929, for example, Arab residents of Hebron, which was then part of British-administered Mandatory Palestine, went on a killing spree through the town, slaughtering a total of 67 Jews.

In addition, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem in the early 20th century, had a close and collaborative relationship with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, who reportedly promised to appoint al-Husseini as head of Mandatory Palestine after Germany had conquered it and every single one of its Jewish inhabitants had been exterminated.

Husseini, born in 1895, fled British Mandatory Palestine in 1937. After some time in Lebanon and Iraq, he went to fascist Italy and from there to Nazi Germany.

Encyclopedia Britannica’s attempt to redefine the word for the pernicious hatred of Jews is worrying, not least because the online resource boasts that its material is used to teach some 140 million students around the world.

It is perturbing to consider how many impressionable children might have come across Encyclopedia Britannica’s false article and claims.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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