Tribe, People, Nation

The anti-Israel world, now pushed by the Palestinian Authority and believed by many, is hearing and reading from multiple sources the old calumny that there is no such thing as a Jewish people. “Jews are just ordinary citizens of a country who have a particular religion”, “there is no such thing as a Jewish people, only a Jewish religion”.  Unfortunately, this idea not only goes back for generations, but was and is promoted by many Jews themselves, notably in the USA by the American Council for Judaism and its remnants. This ACJ was a group of Jews, mostly of German background, many of whom created Reform Judaism, who vociferously attacked Zionism as it gained influence in the 1930’s. They formed a contra-group, the American Council for Judaism.The Sulzberger and Ochs families, publishers then as now of the New York Times, were supporters, but not official members.

A dictionary definition supports what is obvious; that Jews are a people that has now regained its nationhood. However, these days the words “people” and “nation” are charitably accepted as demanded by all groups in the world with the exception of the Jews. We, among the three or four of all groups that can show historical proof of grouping for over 2500 hundred years and the only group with a concomitant written alphabet accessible to a contemporary high school literacy are being denied our heritage. This in deference to the political power of a group that began to evolve from tribal identity perhaps 100 years ago. It’s worth going back to the dictionary (as embellished a little).

TRIBE: a group, larger than a family, related by blood and recognizing the relationship as the source of mutual connection or obligation.

A PEOPLE: a group that shares most of the following:

A sense of themselves as separate from the larger community of humans

The larger community of humans recognizes this separateness

A unique shared language

A unique shared history

A unique shared religion

A unique dwelling locus

These separate and unique features extending for several generations

It is not necessary to have all these attributes, but most are needed for peoplehood.

Thus, gypsies are a people but have no locus. Africans do not share enough of these attributes to be a single people, but are rather several peoples.


A NATION: a group of humans who live within a recognized territory with a recognized central authority that declares itself separate from other territories and authorities. The group may be a single tribe or people or multiple tribes or peoples, but recognizes its location and authority.

By these definitions, Jews are certainly a people who have regained nationhood. Palestinians are a group of tribes evolving into peoplehood.

The success of the many lies against us in the last 50 years is seen in the current demand that UNESCO declare the Kotel as Arab. Israel should not make the error of thinking that these lies will disappear on their own. Israel needs to correct this degradation wherever it appears.

About the Author
Arnold L. Flick was born 1930 of secular, Zionist, Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. He has followed events in Israel since age seven when he first solicited for the “Jews of Palestine” on the streets of Los Angeles as a young member of Habonim. He was in Israel for four months 1990-91 and for two months 2002. He is active in the House of Israel Balboa park, a non-profit museum in Balboa Park, San Diego, that provides information about Israel to its 15,000 annual visitors.