It is acceptable to advance anti-Semitism in film – provided the Semites are Arabs. I call this habit of racial and cultural generalization “The New Anti-Semitism.” I call it “new” not because stereotypical screen Arabs are new (they aren’t) or because anti-Semitism against Jews is dead (it isn’t). I use the word “new” because many of the anti-Semitic films directed against Arabs were released . . . at a time when Hollywood was steadily and increasingly eliminating stereotypical portraits of other groups.
- Jack Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People
The new anti-Semitism extends far beyond darkened movie theatres to the spotlight shining on Donald J. Trump, the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. What if Trump had substituted “Jew” in his diatribe against Muslims? What if he told enraptured followers that: Jews should be banned from entering the country until we can figure out what’s going on. And imagine: He’d require Jewish-Americans to register with a government database, and mandate special identification cards. Warrantless surveillance of American Jews and their places of worship would become the new normal.
It’s possible that such blatant anti-Semitism might have derailed his candidacy – but who could say for sure in these peculiar times? In any case, I suspect that degrading Jews would evoke more outrage than the calumny visited upon Muslims. Indeed, Trump’s followers celebrate Islamophobia, but is this anti-Semitism?
Jews and Arabs are both Semites. To cite a headline from the Israeli paper Haaretz: “Jews and Palestinian Arabs share genetic roots”; they’re “blood brothers” – much to the chagrin of the Semitic-deniers. Jews and Arabs also share a history, theology, and language. Linguists readily uncover the Semitic roots of Hebrew and Arabic. No wonder our prayers for peace bear a family resemblance – shalom and as salaam. But there is no peace. And there will be no peace until Jew and Arab stop mirroring hateful stereotypes of one another.
To be sure, in theory, Islamophobia cannot be reduced to prejudice against Arabs – only about 15% of Muslims are Arabs. In practice, however, Islamophobes keep it simple. The pervasive, Islamophobia mobilized and exploited by Trump and too many others is not the product of a nuanced analysis of the demographics of the diverse Islamic world. It is not tempered by the lessons of history found in works that should be required reading in these times, studies such as Hofstadter’s Paranoia in American Politics. The Arab is the Islamophobe’s idee fixe.