I thought of these terms a lot in recent weeks as we have been inundated with continuous demands by Israel’s leaders that Palestinians not only recognise the state of Israel but its Jewishness as well. These demands also included a set of new laws that the Israeli government has approved, demanding others to refer to the Jewishness of the state and paying little attention to the 20 per cent of the non-Jewish citizens of Israel.

Jewish or Israeli ?
By Daoud Kuttab*

I have always tried my best to differentiate between Jews and Israelis. It bothers me when Palestinians use these two terms interchangeably.

Every time I cross the Jordan River, I overhear people talk on their cell phones, saying how they just got into the Jewish side, left the Jewish side, or were waiting to go through the Jewish side. Such comments can be heard as people approach or leave an Israeli checkpoint or have any other dealings with Israelis.

Religious preachers use the terms interchangeably when referring to negative actions of the Israelis or the lack of trust in Jewish negotiators, etc.

When I used to cover the Intifada and travel through the occupied territories, I had a similar concern. People would be telling me that Jews came from a certain side, Jewish soldiers beat up someone’s son, Jews shot from behind some trees, statements that referred to the actions of the occupying Israeli forces.

When I would go with foreign journalists, I would have to interpret and I would find myself in a bind, wondering whether I should literally translate words or just refer to the adjective used for the soldiers as Israeli.

Using the word Jew for Israeli is not restricted to Palestinians from certain geographic areas or those from a particular economic background. I would hear it and get upset whenever a university professor or a person from my own family would use the term Jewish referring to Israelis, because I would think of a number of American Jewish friends that I know and who would have nothing to do with the occupiers and the state of Israel, or would be anti-Zionist and share with Palestinians their aspiration to be ?id of the Israeli occupation.

I thought of these terms a lot in recent weeks as we have been inundated with continuous demands by Israel’s leaders that Palestinians not only recognise the state of Israel but its Jewishness as well. These demands also included a set of new laws that the Israeli government has approved, demanding others to refer to the Jewishness of the state and paying little attention to the 20 per cent of the non-Jewish citizens of Israel.

What bothered me was what seems to be a muted reaction from the world’s Jewish population. I can understand the diaspora Jews having special feelings towards the state of Israel for ethnic and religious reasons. But I always thought that those Jews insisted on their local nationality (American, British or Hungarian), while stressing their unique Jewish faith and culture.

Regarding the subject of Jews in the diaspora, I feel that it is problematic to erase differences between Israeli and Jew. The attempts to blur these differences certainly play into the hands of those trying to describe every anti-Israeli action or statement as anti-Semitic.

Palestinians have rejected, and will continue to do so, equating the two terms, for a variety of reasons. Palestinian nationalists insist that the Arab-Israeli conflict is a political national struggle and not a religious one. And although Palestinians have recognised Israelis within the 1967 borders, they totally refuse the concept that Jews have a biblical right to the land of historic Palestine or beyond.

Furthermore, Palestinian leaders will not give up on their brethren who are Palestinian citizens of Israel and whose status would be further hurt by such an attempt that cancels the concept that Israel is the state for its citizens irrespective of their religion.

Right-wing Israeli leaders led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman might think that they have found a winning strategy to obstruct Palestinian demands for an end to their military occupation. Palestinians and most level-headed persons around the world will accept the Palestinian position that Israel can call itself whatever it wants. But by ramming the Jewishness of Israel down the throat of Palestinians, the Israeli leadership is harming the attempts by Jews around the world to distance themselves from the political state of Israel even if they support it ethnically, culturally and emotionally.  This will have a much longer negative effects on world Jewry than on Palestinians. I hope they will realise this dangerous move and will act to stop it before it is too late.


*Daoud Kuttab is a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University (’07-’08). While at Princeton he taught a seminar on new media in the Arab world. Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and media activists. Born in Jerusalem in 1955, Kuttab studied in the United States and has been working in journalism ever since 1980. He has worked in the Arabic print press (Al Fajr, Al Quds and Assinara) before moving to the audio visual field. He established and presided over the Jerusalem Film Institute in the 90s. In 1995 he helped establish the Aabic Media Internet Network (AMIN) a censorship free Arab web site. http://www.amin.org .He established and has headed since 1996 the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University until January 2008 when he resigned to focus on Community Media Network an Arab Media NGO registered in Jordan and Palestine.
In 1997 he partially moved to Amman (because of family tragedy and remarriage) and in 2000 established the Arab world’s first internet radio station AmmanNet (www.ammannet.net ). Mr. Kuttab is active in media freedom efforts in the Middle East. He is an award winning journalist and TV producer. Community Media Network includes Radio al Balad a community radio station broadcasting on 92.4 FM in Amman, Jordan, AmmanNet.net and PEN Media a media NGO that has been contracted to produce 52 new episodes of Shara’a Simsim, the Palestinian version of Sesame Street.



  1. Mark Prime said,

    November 3, 2010 at 16:52

    Great piece, my friend.

    If “the people” of this earth could be heard all at once calling for “peace”, it would shatter every ceiling built by man…

  2. Amerikagulag said,

    November 3, 2010 at 17:23

    Zionism is a political/social movement founded upon a myth of a god-given claim on land.

    One small group of people perceiving themselves as ‘better’ than all others is the cause of antisemitism. But it goes MUCH deeper than that – it’s called anti-jewish as it is distinctly the jewish religion that teaches their self-appointed specialness. To be antisemitic, one would have to hate the Palestinians, the Iraqi’s, the Afghan people. One would have to support Israel to be antisemitic.

  3. November 3, 2010 at 19:04

    The problem referred to in the article is a philosophically recognized shortcoming of ALL human knowledge. This is the problem of universals.

    In our minds, we make up universals to refer categories of that which we recognize as categories. The problem is, the categories themselves are not real.

    And thus, philosophers recognize, no universal is real either, except as it exists -uniquely- inside our own heads.

    With this modest conceptual hurdle achieved we can then see why the Palestinians (might individually) think of and refer to Israelis and Zionists as “Jews”.

    The expression is merely a common idiom that has no concrete religious or ethnic connotation, but rather is a means by which individuals have found to reference those people who live behind the wall, and keep coming through it to violently grab more Palestinian land.

    They might mean to denigrate by the use of the term, fro these are often their antagonists -but they do not need to mean any religious or ethnic sleight.

    Our conceptual embarrassment comes from occasionally finding the black swan that violates our use of any universal.

    Yes, there are Israelis who are not Jews. There are even Zionists that are not Jews. Most Jews do not even live in Israel. And in fact, Jews, Israelis and Zionists DO NOT REALLY EXIST -any more than Palestinians exist.

    They do not exist because these are just universals.

    So, someone out there missed the gist of the argument because there is so much emotion attached the words used here on all sides. (What does this goyim mean that there are no Jews? LOL)

    So, let me re-deliver the explanation in philosophical terms to make it more digestible.

    You are a man (or a woman), right? You know what a man is, right? You have it written into the universal laws in your head what a man is, right?

    Okay, that’s good. Now, was your father a man? Yes, he was.

    Was his father a man? And his father?

    Okay, so go back a billion years worth of fathers. Is THAT a man?

    No. Not quite. But, Silly, here is a problem with the universal “man”.

    We all think individually we know “man” means, but at some point going back in everyone’s ancestry, we find our relatives are no longer men. But there is no dividing line where we say, this is a man, and this is NOT a man.

    So, -obviously- we cannot really then define what is a man.

    We could arrive at this conclusion some other way for those who do not believe in evolution. The means of destroying the validity of a universal is irrelevant. They all can be destroyed, including numbers, 1,2,3,4 these things do not exist -except in our heads.

    They are relative reference points only, used only within the limited context of our own minds. We do not share universals. This is an important next step. We do not share universals.

    We do not share universals, for -despite the fact it seems we all know what a “man” is, none of us has the same conception.

    I can give you my conception of a man, but there’s a hitch even to this. You cannot really know what I mean by my description, and I cannot know what you take from my description.

    So, you see, it is the emotion of hearing one referred to as a “Jew” that gets us into trouble, but that trouble is at the source of the outrage, not at the use of an otherwise inoffensive universal.

    It is generally considered okay for Jews among themselves to say, “He is a Jew, a good Jew, or a not-so-good Jew, or a self-hating Jew.”

    And somehow in our bizarre twisted realities in our own heads, it is not okay for a Palestinian (or a non-Jewish American) to refer to someone as a “Jew”.

    Did I miss something about this reality? No. Not really.

    The same applies in a more heightened sense with the use of the word “nigger”. But that is another story.

    If you want to experience the bizarre nature of these things even more -click my name-link and read an article I wrote attacking Ben Bernanke. There is a fantastic likeness of Mr. Bernanke that will make you scream with laughter.

    But some will of course say, it is antisemitic. LOL

    Why? Because I am not Jewish?

    I am Scottish by heritage. The Scots are proud to be called cheap! I brought my own sons up that way. Be proud to be called cheap.

    LOL Reality is infinitely complex. NEVER underestimate the infinite complexity of reality. Doing so leads to an ignorance that cannot be overcome.

  4. November 3, 2010 at 19:47

    […] DIFFERENCES BETWEEN JEWS AND ISRAELIS « Desertpeace. November 3rd, 2010 | Category: Uncategorized | Comments are closed | […]

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