The Bifurcation of the Semitic Myth and Post-WW2 Antisemitism

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by Neil Godfrey

[After the 1967 June War] [t]his was what the Arab had become. From a faintly outlined stereotype as a camel-riding nomad to an accepted caricature as the embodiment of incompetence and easy defeat: that was all the scope given the Arab. 

Returning to Egypt at end of the 1967 Six Day War

Yet after the 1973 war the Arab appeared everywhere as some-thing more menacing. Cartoons depicting an Arab sheik standing behind a gasoline pump turned up consistently. These Arabs, however, were clearly “Semitic”: their sharply hooked noses, the evil mustachioed leer on their faces, were obvious reminders (to a largely non-Semitic population) that “Semites” were at the bottom of all “our” troubles, which in this case was principally a gasoline shortage. The transference of a popular anti-Semitic animus from a Jewish to an Arab target was made smoothly, since the figure was essentially the same. 

Thus if the Arab occupies space enough for attention, it is as a negative value. He is seen as the disrupter of Israel’s and the West’s existence, or in another view of the same thing, as a surmountable obstacle to Israel’s creation in 1948. Insofar as this Arab has any history, it is part of the history given him (or taken from him: the difference is slight) by the Orientalist tradition, and later, the Zionist tradition. Palestine was seen—by Lamartine and the early Zionists —as an empty desert waiting to burst into bloom; such inhabitants as it had were supposed to be inconsequential nomads possessing no real claim on the land and therefore no cultural or national reality. Thus the Arab is conceived of now as a shadow that dogs the Jew. In that shadow—because Arabs and Jews are Oriental Semites—can be placed whatever traditional, latent mistrust a Westerner feels towards the Oriental. For the Jew of pre-Nazi Europe has bifurcated: what we have now is a Jewish       hero, constructed out of a reconstructed cult of the adventurer-pioneer-Orientalist (Burton, Lane, Renan), and his creeping, mysteriously fearsome shadow, the Arab Oriental. Isolated from everything except the past created for him by Orientalist polemic, the Arab is chained to a destiny that fixes him and dooms him to a series of reactions periodically chastised by what Barbara Tuchman gives the theological name “Israel’s terrible swift sword.” 

Aside from his anti-Zionism, the Arab is an oil supplier. This is another negative characteristic, since most accounts of Arab oil equate the oil boycott of 1973–1974 (which principally benefitted Western oil companies and a small ruling Arab elite) with the absence of any Arab moral qualifications for owning such vast oil reserves. Without the usual euphemisms, the question most often being asked is why such people as the Arabs are entitled to keep the developed (free, democratic, moral) world threatened. From such questions comes the frequent suggestion that the Arab oil fields be invaded by the marines. . . . (Said, Edward. 1977. Orientalism. Penguin, London. pp. 285f.)

Compare the quotation in my previous post

In the second half of the twentieth century, Said explains, the “myth of the arrested development of the Semites” underwent a curious bifurcation: “[O]ne Semite went the way of Orientalism, the other, the Arab, was forced to go the way of the Oriental.”15 In the aftermath of World War II, anti-Semitic hostility has been redirected to Arabs; Israelis now serve the western imagination as new colonial heroes who stand in for “white men” in a depraved Orient.


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Neil Godfrey

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11 thoughts on “The Bifurcation of the Semitic Myth and Post-WW2 Antisemitism”

    1. I fail to see how Palin in practicality could be more or less scary than Trump. Once in power they are both much more interested in establishing Christian-equavalent Sharia totalitarianism at home and holing up until Jesus comes to rescue them from the evil brown folks.

    2. What I find troubling is a failure to understand people and history and institutions and culturation among many of us. It almost seems wilful given its selectivity but I think humans are tricky people and “wilful” is probably going too far. I once set out a human drama of historical events filled with very universal plot lines and themes — but in this particular case the cast of characters happened to be Muslims, and the primary person for whom I wrote that outline could see none of the common humanity and tragedy in the events, but could only see “Muslims” whom he equated with “blood-lust”. Human tragedy and understanding did not register with this person when he was thinking of the subjects as Muslims.

      Now, would you like to have a serious discussion about the cartoon and its semitic features? Perhaps you would like to invite participants on the Palestinian blog to join in? Or would discussion and understanding of the issues raised in this post only spoil your gotchas?

      For that matter, would you like to simply discuss any aspect of the post at all? You don’t agree that the cartoons remind us of the semitic origins of Al Qaeda? You don’t find anything about that potentially worth thinking about and discussing?

      1. Who is this addressed to? Mr. Gibson?

        ‘You don’t agree that the cartoons remind us of the semitic origins of Al Qaeda?’

        They do. But I don’t normally look at Palestinian uprising blogs so had never seen the cartoon before.

        1. It was addressed to you, dear Steven.

          So is there something I wrote about the significance of the cartoon that you would like to discuss?

          (I find it disappointing that you would speak of scarcely visiting a Palestinian blog as something one does not wish to make a habit of given what one thinks of unseemly associations — like “uprising”. I think you should expand your horizons and get to know more people from different cultures and histories, Steven — get to know their stories, too, from personal contact. They are not all the same, you know.)

        2. “Anti-semitism” is a German invented expression to make Jew-hatred sound scientific. It predates the Nazis by many decades. It’s incorrect to conflate this word with Semitic people in general.

          The opposite occurred in the formation of the word Islamophobia which shames hatred of Muslims and is difficult to deny due to cowardly implication of the extension “phobia”.

          So if you have the opportunity, it would be better to avoid and replace the word “antisemitism” with Judeophobia or something similar which hits home that fear of Jews is foolish.

  1. Modern Islamism is just a reaction to the fact that Israel has always been the tip of the US dick in the Middle East. How exactly do you politely explain that this is not my dick?

  2. ‘Israelis now serve the western imagination as new colonial heroes who stand in for “white men” in a depraved Orient’

    Especially when they invade the Lebanon?? Israelis are regarded as heroes for attacking Rafic Hariri International Airport?

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