Use Names Correctly Unless You Are Deliberately Trying to Deceive

The very first sentence of an otherwise interesting NYT op-ed,  perpetuates a misunderstanding that is proving disastrous for Israeli hasbara. When words are all we have to convey ideas, we better be sure we are using them correctly.

Let me quote from the opinion piece to which I am referring: “When my father was born in Palestine, before the State of Israel was established, less than half a million Jews lived in this territory. In 1949 — a year after Israel was born . . .”

The first problem is the use of the term, ‘Palestine’, implying that ‘Palestine’ was a state and that Israel supplanted it. This is wrong. The writer, Shmuel Rosner, should have written either, ‘Jewish Palestine’ or the ‘British Mandate for Palestine’, ‘Mandatory Palestine’, or some variation thereof. Jewish Palestine refers to the area that was set aside for the establishment of the modern State of Israel and was distinguished from the Trans-Jordan that was set aside for the future Arab State of Jordan, a state that had never before existed in history. Some variation of the term Mandatory Palestine, then, refers to the entire tract of land over which Britain had administrative control and that included Jewish Palestine and Trans-Jordan. I suppose that Rosner meant that his father was born in Jewish Palestine, although I think that there were probably scattered Jews living in Trans-Jordan before 1948.

The second problem is his wording, “a year after Israel was born”. What he should, more accurately, have written was “a year after the Modern State of Israel was born”. Israel was a sovereign kingdom in our historical past. It was overrun by various empires who swept across the Middle East, sometimes from the East and sometimes from the West. Never was this area a sovereign state other than when it was a sovereign kingdom of the Jews. We can distinguish between the historical kingdom and the modern state by using that exact terminology. To leave the impression that Israel was ‘born’ rather than ‘re-established’ perpetuates the question of Israel’s right to exist.

Use Names Correctly Unless You Are Deliberately Trying to Deceive
Use Names Correctly Unless You Are Deliberately Trying to Deceive

I don’t think that Rosner meant to provide more ammunition for the Israel-has-no-right-to-exist believers among the global population, but he, in fact, did support them indirectly. Please, writers, take care to use accurate terms when you write about Israel!


About the Author
Sheri Oz, owner of, is a retired family therapist exploring mutual interactions between politics and Israeli society.