Anti-antisemitism? A Battle Rages Over the Jewish Hyphen

William Shakespeare famously asked “What’s in a name?” But when it comes to the conversation about anti-Semitism, the question is far more specific: What’s in a hyphen?

For Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, the hyphen means a great deal – and she argues that it’s time to get rid of it. 

In January 2019, the acclaimed historian published the book “Antisemitism: Here and Now.” Together with explanations of its history, background, resurgence and a playbook on how to battle the phenomenon, the book included a clarion call to change the way the word is written. Lipstadt wrote emphatically that it should no longer be written “anti-Semitism.” Instead, the hyphen and uppercase S should be banished and it should be one word: antisemitism. 

Prof. Deborah Lipstadt talking at a conference in Jerusalem, October 2019Olivier Fitoussi

But even as the issue has dominated headlines in recent years – following the Pittsburgh and Poway shootings, incidents in Europe and disturbing conspiracy theories – the hyphen has proved hard to dislodge.

The Associated Press Stylebook sticks by “anti-Semitism,” and in turn most newspapers and websites – including this one – hang onto the hyphen. 

The Merriam-Webster definition of anti-Semitism.Screengrab from Merriam-Webster

But Lipstadt is determined to continue her crusade, she tells Haaretz in a telephone interview. 

“The hyphen is over. We are way overdue when it comes to losing the hyphen. Its presence completely distorts the meaning of the word,” she says.