Sunday, July 8, 2007

Detrimental semantics

Haaretz :
One can assume that this is generally an insensitive habit of speech of a majority that regards itself as the general public, as a majority tends to do. There are surely those who are not prepared, in principle, to recognize that a non-Jew can be an Israeli. However, it seems that more often the problem exists in the opposite direction among those who prefer to call the national group that constitutes the state's majority 'Israelis' and not 'Jews.'

'Israeli' sounds to them like a civic and secular term, while 'Jew,' in their view, is an ethno-religious definition. ...There is no intention here of claiming that Arabs are not Israelis, but rather an intention, or habit, of refraining from defining the Jews as Jews. After all, as noted, an enlightened, liberal and secular person in our times has learned to recoil from the term "Jew," which emits an odor of extreme nationalism and religious coercion....

It would be best to leave the term "Israeli" as a civic label that applies, in principle, to all citizens of the state. Most people belonging to the majority do not care if they are called Jews, Israeli Jews, or "simply" Israelis: They regard these terms, in most contexts, as synonyms. From the perspective of relations with the Arab minority, it is actually better to call the members of the nation that comprises the majority "Jews" (or "Israeli Jews"), and to call all Israel's citizens, regardless of religion and nationality "Israelis."...

As noted, there are no semantic solutions for substantive problems. But it is always possible to make things worse.

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