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The Definition of Antisemitism

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Chapter Summary

Defining antisemitism has always been complicated by the disreputable origins of the term, the discredited sources of its etymology, the diverse manifestations of the concept, and the contested politics of its applications. This chapter explores the various ways in which antisemitism has historically been defined, demonstrates the weaknesses in prior efforts, and develops a new definition of antisemitism. Building on the work of thinkers as Jean-Paul Sartre, Theodor Adorno, Helen Fein, and Gavin Langmuir, the chapter demonstrates that a theoretically sophisticated definition of this term must fully account for antisemitism's ideological, attitudinal, and practical qualities; its persisting latent structure within Western cultures; its continuities and discontinuities with analogous phenomena; its chimerical quality; its potentially self-fulfilling character; and its role in the construction of Jewish identity. Many modern formulations have defined antisemitism, instead, as a discrete but largely generic form of a more general phenomenon such as ethnic prejudice or xenophobia.

Keywords: antisemitism; etymology; Gavin Langmuir; Helen Fein; Jean-Paul Sartre; Jews; Theodor Adorno



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