Chaim Ingram

What’s in a name? Everything!

Words matter!

For those who haven’t noticed, there are two Israel wars going on presently.

The first, conducted by our dedicated IDF soldiers, is, with G-D’s help, largely proceeding slowly but surely according to plan, except for securing the safe return of the hostages for which we pray daily.

The second is the hasbara (advocacy) war in which every committed Jew has a potential role to play. Sadly that one isn’t going so well.

A key reason for this is that our opponents and detractors play the ‘misnaming’ game very well.  Many of us haven’t caught on to it and may have even been unwittingly complicit in their disinformation strategy.

Jews have been called the “People of the Book”.  More accurately we are traditionally the “people of the word”. Words matter to us! The memorable phrase coined by English playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, “the pen is mightier than the sword”,  is one which the Jew would readily endorse.  More than 3,500 years ago, Isaac declared “the voice is the voice of Jacob while the hands are the hands of Esau” (Gen. 27:22).  Of necessity, we have, since 1948, abstracted Esau’s hands while unaccountably at the same time muting our own voice.

Sadly, many swathes of the world’s media have adopted the vile motto of Joseph Goebbels as their own.  “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will begin to believe it!”. No better example of this has manifested especially since the atrocities of last Simchat Torah, than the great canard that the Israelis are latter-day “colonialists” and the “victimised” Palestinian Arabs are historically indigenous to Erets Yisrael!  A perverted reversal of the facts. Fact #1: in June 2023, Professor Yosef Garfinkel of the Institute of Archaeology  at Hebrew University published his evidence that King David ruled over a well-developed kingdom centred around Jerusalem but also incorporating Gaza (later to become part of the northern Kingdom of Israel) around 1000 BCE, 1,600 years before the founding of Islam.   (Of course the believing Jew’s core evidence – and for that matter the believing Christian –  lies in the Bible!) Fact #2: there is not a shred of evidence linking the Palestinian Arabs (who are Semitic) with the ancient Philistines (who are Hamitic) as some attempt to do.

It is high time we upped our hasbara game.  And we won’t get off first base unless we understand the power of words to either enlighten or mislead or even brainwash.

I shall endeavour to do my bit by listing some key nefarious misnomers that have infiltrated our consciousness by dint of their constant reiterations in the world’s press and on social media.  Some of them have been so effective that many members of our tribe will utilise them without thinking. I suppose that “thinking” is something we Jews should all be doing at this time! If we do our due diligent reflection, we shall surely be more cautious about the terms we use and those we avoid, while encouraging others to do likewise.

So here are some key misnomers which I should like to see expunged from our vocabulary:-

The Palestinians. Rather use the accurate term “Palestinian Arabs”. Prior to 1948 there were Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews. My macheteiniste a.h. was a Palestinian, as she was born in Jaffa in 1947. She was also one hundred per cent Jewish!

Palestine.  There is no such internationally-recognised sovereign nation or state.  At best it is a political entity. Tell it not in the boardrooms or the playing fields of the IOC or FIFA but that is a fact!

Occupied Territories.  The term “occupied” is a loaded term implying  illegality whereas the final status of the territories captured in the 1967 War has yet to be decided.  Proud Jews will refer to them as the “liberated” territories; but we are all safe with the neutral term “administered territories”. (Note: Palestinian Arabs now openly refer to the whole of Israel as “the occupation”. If this dysphemism is allowed to go unchecked, it will become terrifyingly mainstream. The process has begun already.)

West Bank.  Why not call it by its Biblical name of Yehuda and Shomron, or Judea and Samaria?

Settlers.  A derogatory name implying illegality, slapped by the world’s press upon those Jews who have made their home in the heartlands of ancient Israel, namely Judea and Samaria  The world would like to see these areas – as well as post-1967 Jerusalem Jewish suburbs like Ramat Eshkol and Har Nof – Judenrein.  Let’s use the term “re-settlers” – which is what they are in historical terms!

Colonisation.  Give our detractors an inch and they will take a mile. A particularly mischievous canard of relatively recent vintage, the Jews of the whole of Israel – note, not just the administered territories – are branded empire-style “colonialists” wanting to take over the entire region! Surrounded as tiny Israel is by 22 Arab states, this dysphemism would be hilarious if it were not so terrifyingly insidious.

Militants / Fighters A euphemism for terrorists, when applied to Hamas forces.  Call a spade a spade!

Proportionality.  A weird doctrine that accords moral equivalence between perpetrators of evil and its victims and, as a consequence, expects losses of lives to be numerically similar.. Fact #3: Israel is engaged in a war of self-defence in order to protect the lives of all her citizens and the future of her country against Hamas genocidal aggression. The fact that more Gazan Arabs are dying than Israeli Jews does not make it morally correct for Israel to weaken her resolve and lay herself vulnerable..  Fact #4: If the Palestinian Arabs would lay down their arms and release the hostages, there would be peace. If Israel were to lay down its arms unilaterally there would be no more Israel.

That we must protest vehemently, yet rationally, against the twisted accusations against us of genocide and apartheid  is, I  believe, so obvious to all  my readers as not to require further discussion here.  Fact #5: Iran and her acolytes Hamas and Hezbollah wish to liquidate the State of Israel and the State of Israel.  That is genocide!  Fact #6: Before and after the creation of Medinat Yisrael hundreds of thousands of Jews were forced to flee from Arab countries. No  Jew today can safely reside in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya or Algeria. That is way worse than apartheid!

 It pays for us as Jews to keep a careful watch on the language others use – and the language we use!

While we are at it, let’s also home in on a few ‘woke’ misnomer-euphemisms/dysphemisms that have  nothing to do with the Middle East but which reflect upon the amoral revolution that has deluged Western society in the 21st century.

Marriage Equality.  An evasive euphemism for homosexual wedlock.  Fact #6: Real marriage equality would also embrace child-marriage, incest, and bestiality, and maybe will one sad day.

Assisted Dying.  A euphemistic way of referring to the methods of those medical practitioners who help their patients to commit suicide.

Foetus    A dysphemism for “unborn baby”. The word “foetus” derives from the Latin “foetid” meaning “smelling extremely unpleasant”.  It is far easier to plan the destruction of a foul-smelling, undeveloped globular mass than it is to contemplate the dismembering of a healthy baby in his/her mother’s womb.

Yes indeed – words and names matter exceedingly! They shape the views of society more powerfully, more insidiously and more manipulatively than any legislation can!

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of five books on Judaism. He is a senior tutor for the Sydney Beth Din and the non-resident rabbi of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation. He can be reached at