Eugene Volokh wonders "What's with those Jewish people?".
Why do some people think that it's more polite to say "Jewish people" than "Jews"? I've heard some people say that "Jews" is somehow considered rude, and "Jewish people" is better, but I just don't see why.I've wondered about this myself. Perhaps it's because Judaism is a hybrid of race, ethnicity, and religion, and such hybrids aren't common? Maybe in some cases the speaker doesn't know exactly how to express that he's referring to the religious characteristics of Jews in some contexts, and their racial characteristics in other contexts.
Along the same lines, is it acceptable to call Jews "Hebrews"? Why are people from Israel called "Israelis" rather than "Israelites"?
People are generally very sensitive about political correctness when it comes to Jews, for understandable reasons. I'm sure that plain old anxiety over causing offense is at least partly responsible for the awkward phrasing, as if to say "You aren't a Jew to me, don't worry; you're just a person who happens to be Jewish."
David Bernstein elaborates.