Key Concepts-Zionism, Jews, Israelites and Hebrews

  • 3 minute read
  • • by Sharon Koifman
  • • August 4, 2022

Living as a minority for 2,000 years led us to an apologetic mentality, which also meant letting others define our identity and made the Jewish community lose sight of what should be fairly basic concepts. I would like to take back certain terms and concepts that have gradually faded from view over the years. Yes, this may cause some eye rolls and objections such as, “this is not what that means anymore.”

But these words and concepts have real definitions, and there was no reason ever to change them. If you are a hater and are uncomfortable with these definitions, you can go fuck yourself. No other minority group has ever had their identity defined by their oppressors. As for the Jews who are uncomfortable with these definitions, I hope you do some soul searching. These definitions are quite straightforward and are well supported by facts.

What Is Zionism? 

No, Zionism is not some Jewish scheme to take over the world. It’s not a movement to oppress Palestinians, it’s not some colonial or imperialist movement. Zionism is not so different than the civil rights movement or the fight for a better life for the native population. Zionism is the Jews’ fight for self-determination. It is Jews establishing a small piece of land they can call their own, in their ancestral land. It is indigenous people coming back and decolonizing. Yup, decolonizing. You heard that right.

What Are Jews?

This might come as a shock, but Jews are actually an ethnicity. Technically defined as an Ethno religion but with a big emphasis on Ethno. We follow a religion called Judaism, no different from most Indians who follow Hinduism. The term Jew is short for Judeans (Yehudim). I actually have no idea why the English language strangely decided to shorten this term and confuse the relations. In every other language, we are called Judeans or Hebrews.

When you call someone a Jew, you are saying that they are culturally, religiously, or blood-descended from the southern kingdom (ancient for province or state) of Israel called Judah or Judea (based on different dialects). That means you are ethnically descended from the Judah tribe. Jews might celebrate Passover and eat Kosher, but the real uniting factor is the connection to Israel, which we declare in prayer multiple times a day. During Hanukkah, we celebrate our reconquering of Judah. During Passover, we celebrate our delivery out of Egypt to the land of Israel. We even finish every Passover Seder with the declaration that we want to return to Jerusalem. I hate to be a downer, but if you are Jew who claims to have nothing to do with Israel, you are simply saying that you are not a Jew.

Hebrews, Jews, and Israelites Are the Same People 

This concept has created so much confusion in our lives: Who are the Jews, and what exactly is their association with Israelis and the term Hebrew? The reality is that a nation earns few names when you exist for so long.

The term Hebrew, which means “crossed over,” was given to Abraham. Israel is the name given to his grandson, Jacob, and all his descendants were later called B’nai Israel (the children of Israel). With the population increasing, it was later shortened to Israelites, and in modern language, became Israelis.

The term Judeans dates back to when Israel was divided into two kingdoms (provinces in modern terms), Judea and Samaria. Judea was named after the fourth son of Jacob (and great-grandson of Abraham) named Judah.

These terms are all synonymous in the same way that Holland and the Netherlands refer to the same country. Now you can see why any Jew gains automatic Israeli citizenship, just like any child of a Dutch mother gets automatic citizenship in the Netherlands.

I do admit that the situation gets a bit complicated when you consider that Israel also houses a large non-Jewish population, and it should absolutely stay that way. That’s why I choose the words inclusive when I define Jews in terms of Israelis to make it clear that anyone who is not Jewish is very much an equal citizen in Israel.

Not to mention that some people who live in present-day Israel, such as the Ethiopian Falashas, Cochin Jews from India, and actual Samaritans, claim to be descended from the northern kingdom of Samaria and also deserve a claim in Israel.

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