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In the first Hebrew translation of the play "Othello", by William Shakespeare, the hero of the play was named Ithiel the Cushite (איתיאל הכושי)

The word Cushi, also spelled Kushi (Hebrew: כושי‎) is a Hebrew term generally used to refer to a dark-skinned person usually of African descent. Initially, the word was used by Hebrew-speaking Jews to simply refer to individuals of African origin.[citation needed]


Cush or Kush is the name of an ancient ethnic group who came from the land of Kush, centered on the Upper Nile and Nubia (modern-day Sudan). Mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, they are considered descendants of Noah's grandson, Cush the son of Ham.

According to Ethiopian historians, the Kushite Empire also controlled the mountainous regions around the source of the Blue Nile at first, and the Cushitic and Agaw peoples of Ethiopia (including the Bete Israel or Ethiopian Jews, who have largely migrated to Israel) still maintain traditions of descent from Cush.

Modern Hebrew usage[edit]

In ancient times, the term Cushi in Hebrew could denote any African or black individual,[1] translating the Greco-Roman term Aethiops.

In Modern Israeli Hebrew usage, the term Cushi was not initially used as a pejorative term. At times, it was even used to refer fondly to a person of dark skin or a red haired person. It is used as a term of endearment in the case of the renowned Israeli commando of Yemenite extraction, Shimon "Kushi" Rimon (1939–present).[citation needed]

However, in a 2007 Israeli court case, it was stated that:

"The term "Cushi" is considered, by the Israeli society as a whole, to be a Pejorative term and an insult, usually meant to defame a person for his dark-skinned color, and to mark him as an "exceptional", and as an inferior person to a lighter-skinned individual. It is a racist slur, meant to humiliate and degrade the receiver, solely because he belongs to the Falasha ethnic group. This accordingly falls into the fourth alternative category of the definition of "Defamation" in provision 1 of the law (an expression meant to "defame a person for his race, descent, religion, residence or sexual orientation").[2][dead link]

In 2012, Kiryat Arba's Chief Rabbi Dov Lior referred to US President Barack Obama as a "kushi" of the West.[3]

Other terms include Cushim (Hebrew plural) or Cushites (King James English).

See also[edit]