Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 11, 2011

Re: Gingrich and the “Invented People”

The controversy over Newt Gingrich’s refusal to disavow his comments on Palestinian peoplehood gave me a sense of déjà vu. It seems we had a similar conversation in July when Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon released a video about the “disputed” nature of West Bank stewardship.

Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg objected to Ayalon’s plainly truthful video, and was upset enough about this truth-telling to crudely swear at the respected Israeli politician and accuse him of saying something that Ayalon never actually said. As Jonathan had put it: “To speak of the West Bank as disputed territory rather than ‘occupied Arab land’ is beyond the pale, because it hurts the feelings of the Palestinians and puts the two claims on a level playing field.”

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The controversy over Newt Gingrich’s refusal to disavow his comments on Palestinian peoplehood gave me a sense of déjà vu. It seems we had a similar conversation in July when Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon released a video about the “disputed” nature of West Bank stewardship.

Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg objected to Ayalon’s plainly truthful video, and was upset enough about this truth-telling to crudely swear at the respected Israeli politician and accuse him of saying something that Ayalon never actually said. As Jonathan had put it: “To speak of the West Bank as disputed territory rather than ‘occupied Arab land’ is beyond the pale, because it hurts the feelings of the Palestinians and puts the two claims on a level playing field.”

Now, it must be noted that there is one significant difference between the two controversies. The reason Ayalon came away the clear winner of his exchange with Goldberg was not only because Ayalon’s language and demeanor remained dignified, but also because Goldberg’s suggestion—that the Jewish people should suppress their own history to please their enemies—is reprehensible.

The question in this case is about Palestinian history, not Jewish history. But this, too, should not be so controversial. As Aaron Goldstein notes over at the American Spectator, Gingrich simply endorsed the position of the PLO. The quote he chose to illustrate his point is one of many such pronouncements by Palestinian Arab leaders over the years. The fact that the Palestinians were initially—and admittedly—formed as a weapon of genocide against the Jewish state, of course, does not negate the fact that they are now considered here and everywhere to be a distinct people with the right to self-rule.

One other memory this brouhaha conjures is Rudy Giuliani’s statement during the 2007 primary process that “We don’t need to create another terrorist state”—though we should be clear that Gingrich was not opposing the creation of a Palestinian state, which Giuliani seemed to be doing. (Gingrich is on the record supporting the two-state solution. And it is telling that Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat’s reaction was to threaten violence.) But Giuliani was making the point that the peace process should culminate in peace, not simply the creation of a state that would do more harm than good to regional peace.

This should be common sense, but it’s not so common. The peace process, such as it is, must be focused on peace. Gingrich seemed to be making a similar point, which is that if we are determined to call it a “peace process” then we should behave as though we have some interest in actual peace. Allowing the Palestinians to control the narrative with dishonest revisionism designed to erode Jewish rights as a means to weaken and attempt to destroy the Jewish state cannot credibly be part of anything called a peace process.

UPDATE: Goldberg objected to my use of the word “admitted.” I took some of Goldberg’s statements during his argument with Ayalon as an implicit acknowledgement, but that is not the same thing as an open admission. He’s right about the difference, and I have edited the post to reflect that.

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Gingrich and the “Invented People”

Newt Gingrich is taking a lot of flack for telling a Jewish cable channel that the Palestinians are an “invented people.” Those comments were the subject of a lengthy segment of last night’s Republican presidential debate and will, no doubt, inspire angry commentary from the pro-Palestinian left as well as concern from others who will say that Gingrich’s attitude is unpresidential (as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum seemed to imply) and will not help the cause of peace.

This leaves us with three questions: Was Gingrich right? If so, what implications should this have for U.S. policy? And even if he was correct, was it wise for him to say it?

The answer to the first question is simple. Yes, of course, he is right.

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Newt Gingrich is taking a lot of flack for telling a Jewish cable channel that the Palestinians are an “invented people.” Those comments were the subject of a lengthy segment of last night’s Republican presidential debate and will, no doubt, inspire angry commentary from the pro-Palestinian left as well as concern from others who will say that Gingrich’s attitude is unpresidential (as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum seemed to imply) and will not help the cause of peace.

This leaves us with three questions: Was Gingrich right? If so, what implications should this have for U.S. policy? And even if he was correct, was it wise for him to say it?

The answer to the first question is simple. Yes, of course, he is right.

There was no Palestinian Arab state or political entity under the Ottoman Empire or any previous ruler of this region. Indeed, prior to the 20th century, there is no evidence of there ever having been a consciousness on the part of the inhabitants of having a separate political identity that was distinct from the rest of the Arabs of the region.

When the Jews began to return to the country in large numbers over a century ago, Arabs and Ottomans, not Palestinians, met them. Indeed, may of those who now call themselves Palestinians are the descendants of Arab immigrants into the country from surrounding countries who came to find work that was available when the Jews began to rebuild the land. This was asserted in Joan Peters’ controversial book, From Time Immemorial, whose scholarship was roundly criticized when it was published by liberals who didn’t like her conclusions. The fact remains that Arab immigration into Palestine did take place.

It is also a fallacy to claim, as some do, that Zionism is as much a modern invention as Palestinian identity.

The only people to call themselves “Palestinians” prior to the creation of the state of Israel were the Jews who were the first, and up until that time, the only group to conceive of the land as being the home of a separate people or national identity. That was no accident since the land now called Israel or Palestine was sacred only to one people. For centuries, it was an Arab backwater, but it has been the object of prayers for two millennia for the Jews who not only never ceased to hope for the restoration of their sovereignty but also, as is rarely mentioned, never entirely left its soil. Zionism was merely a new name for an ancient though still living people’s belief about their homeland and their destiny.

By contrast, Palestinian nationalism is, as Gingrich rightly said, a 20th century invention. It arose and flourished purely as a reaction to Zionism, a factor that has fatally complicated the quest for peace as Palestinian identity seems to be predicated more on a desire to extinguish the Jewish state and to delegitimize the Jewish presence than it is on the re-creation of an Arab political culture that is specific to this locality.

Even 50 years ago, there was little notion of a separate Palestinian political identity. After all, from 1949 to 1967 Jordan ruled the West Bank and half of Jerusalem and Egypt controlled Gaza. During those 19 years, there was no international clamor to create a Palestinian state in those territories. It would only be after Israel took control over the territories during the Six-Day War that the absence of a Palestinian state was deemed intolerable.

That said, it must be conceded that even if the Palestinians did invent themselves in the last 100 years, it is pointless to deny they do exist now. Millions consider themselves to be part of a distinct Palestinian people with a common history and destiny. The United States and Israel both understand that their desire for self-rule must be accommodated so long as it does not infringe on the rights and security of Israel. A two-state solution that would allow a state of Palestine to exist alongside Israel is now believed by most Israelis to be a commonsensical idea even if it would involve painful territorial compromises.

The catch is that the Palestinians seem unable to accept the idea of the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. And that is where their “invented” history comes in. Since the Palestinians only arrived on the world stage as a result of their revulsion at the notion of Jewish sovereignty over any part of the country, it is difficult, if not impossible for them to come to terms with a peace that would imply Israel’s permanence.

The role of the United States in this mess is not so much to point out the myths about Palestinian history, though myths they are, as to impress upon the Arabs and their supporters that they must abandon their rejection of Zionism.

As for Gingrich’s judgment in saying what he did, it must be said it was refreshing to hear a major American political figure state the truth about the history of the Palestinians and to say the myths they have created have been in service to one goal only: the destruction of Israel. Doing so will not fuel anti-American terrorism as much as it will disabuse the Palestinians of the idea they have long cherished that sooner or later, the United States will abandon Israel.

Nevertheless, it must also be pointed out that if he is elected president, Gingrich will have to deal with the Palestinians and the Arab world. Being upfront about America’s closeness with Israel and that there will be an end to Obama’s practice of treating the Jewish state and those that desire its destruction as being morally equivalent is fine. But it remains to be seen whether Gingrich has the ability to be more than an accurate student of the history of the Middle East. It is fair to say as president, he will have to be more guarded in his statements and even fairer to express skepticism about his ability to do so.

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Jewish Left Rushes to Gutman’s Defense

The Jewish Daily Forward‘s JJ Goldberg has published an article comparing U.S. ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman to Louis Pasteur. The analogy is that just as Louis Pasteur diagnosed diseases, Gutman diagnosed European anti-Semitism. Gutman’s conservative and pro-Israel critics, by criticizing him for his rationalization of Muslim Jewish-hatred, are therefore obviously pretty stupid:

I think it’s time we faced up to the hard truth about Louis Pasteur. The famed 19th century French scientist was a rank bigot. He’s been getting a free ride for too long, and it’s got to stop.

The evidence is shocking but undeniable. It seems that while Pasteur was supposedly devoting his career to battling deadly diseases, he was actually trying to “understand” them, to “explain” what “caused” them to behave as they did. Instead of speaking out firmly against disease, he rationalized its behavior. Indeed, he put the onus on the victims to deal with the consequences of their own suffering, forcing them to ingest “vaccines” and “medicines,” as though their infirmities were their own fault. If he truly believed that germs caused disease, as he claimed, he should have been sticking his needles into the germs, not their victims.

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The Jewish Daily Forward‘s JJ Goldberg has published an article comparing U.S. ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman to Louis Pasteur. The analogy is that just as Louis Pasteur diagnosed diseases, Gutman diagnosed European anti-Semitism. Gutman’s conservative and pro-Israel critics, by criticizing him for his rationalization of Muslim Jewish-hatred, are therefore obviously pretty stupid:

I think it’s time we faced up to the hard truth about Louis Pasteur. The famed 19th century French scientist was a rank bigot. He’s been getting a free ride for too long, and it’s got to stop.

The evidence is shocking but undeniable. It seems that while Pasteur was supposedly devoting his career to battling deadly diseases, he was actually trying to “understand” them, to “explain” what “caused” them to behave as they did. Instead of speaking out firmly against disease, he rationalized its behavior. Indeed, he put the onus on the victims to deal with the consequences of their own suffering, forcing them to ingest “vaccines” and “medicines,” as though their infirmities were their own fault. If he truly believed that germs caused disease, as he claimed, he should have been sticking his needles into the germs, not their victims.

The article proceeds with the same mix of smugness and sarcasm. It concludes with the rhetorically fresh maneuver of quoting someone without giving their name only to reveal – at the very end – that it’s someone the audience agrees with! BAM!

Except this analogy only works if Pasteur had incorrectly theorized that “real” diseases were decreasing in Europe, as Gutman said about “traditional” anti-Semitism. Or if Pasteur had misidentified the causes of the diseases that remained, as Gutman did by blaming Israeli behavior for centuries-old Muslim anti-Semitism. Or if Pasteur had established a pattern of obsessing over those same causes for whatever maladies he encountered, as Gutman did by previously blaming Israeli behavior for Palestinian unilateralism. In those cases, you have to admit, Pasteur would have been as poor a medical theorist as Gutman is a diplomat.

Gutman isn’t being criticized for trying to explain anti-Semitism. He’s being criticized for trying to explain anti-Semitism and getting it wrong.

That’s an important distinction that seems to have escaped many left-leaning commentators and journalists. The Forward‘s Nathan Guttman commented that criticism of Gutman was on account of how “little attention is paid to his actual comments.” The Jewish Journal’s Michael Berenbaum called criticism “nonsense,” noting that “Jews fared far better under Moslem domination and dhimi than they did under Christian domination” but neglecting how historical Muslim anti-Semitism has metastasized into calls for genocide, and how even recognizing pre-Israel anti-Semitism undermines Gutman’s central premise.

Just to be explicit: Gutman is being criticized for claiming that Muslim anti-Semitism — which superficially looks like traditional pathological hate — is actually the result of a stalled peace process and would “clearly abate” and potentially disappear otherwise; that the stalled peace process is disporportionately the fault of Israeli policies; and that in the absence of a stalled peace process Israeli self-defense measures were directly linked to anti-Jewish European violence. The first two claims are false. The third claim, which Gutman contextualizes by reference to Israeli retaliations in the face of Palestinian rocket fire and suicide bombers, is disgraceful.

None of the claims are actually being discussed by Gutman’s defenders, who prefer to address criticisms that nobody is actually making.

Goldberg said that Gutman “blamed Israelis and Arabs alike.” That’s false per the text of the speech and doubly false in the context of Gutman’s overall diplomacy. In both his recent speech and his previous talks, he disproportionately and often singularly identified Israeli settlements as the problem.

Goldberg insisted that Gutman’s “real anti-Semitism vs. Muslim anti-Semitism distinction” is self-evidently tenable – you’d have to be an idiot to believe otherwise – because “one was marked by century after century of recurrent expulsions, Inquisitions, forced conversions, autos da fe and mass murders by waves of Crusaders, Ukrainian Cossacks and Nazi stormtroopers, and the other wasn’t.” That might be a relevant distinction but it’s not the one Gutman was making. What Gutman actually distinguished was between how “traditional” European anti-Semitism is grounded in pathological hatred while Muslim anti-Semitism is rooted in geopolitical root causes.

Gutman should be proud though. His speech was demonstrably wrong on the trend lines of European anti-Semitism. It pinned the blame for violent and genocidal Muslim anti-Semitism not only on Israel, but specifically on Israeli self-defense. It brought up settlements twice – the only explicit factor given that priority – just to emphasize on which side the fault lies. It fell within a history of him blaming Israel for Arab and Muslim rejectionism. It was done with rhetoric that was by turns vapid and unseemly, at one point even papering over the direction of religiously motivated violence with some passive language (i.e.”violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews”).

And here’s a leading Jewish media outlet saying he did none of those things. Impressive!

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Does the Jewish Left Care Anymore About What’s Good for Jews or Israel?

It’s a truism that most American Jews are not one-issue voters with regard to Israel. They have a multiplicity of concerns about church-and-state issues. The majority of American Jews are politically liberal and view social justice issues as integral to their worldview if not their faith. But it is one thing to argue these other concerns as well as those related to Israel’s future must be considered when voting. It is quite another to say they must not only supersede support for Israel, but that the Jewish state’s survival may be considered a minor concern when compared to one element of the liberal agenda.

That is more or less the position taken by Jewish environmental activists who say their cause must take precedence over promoting American energy independence, which would thereby reduce our dependence on the Arab oil that finances both terrorism and regimes that support the war on Israel. Indeed, in denouncing the American Jewish Committee’s justified support for the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada recently halted by President Obama, Joelle Novey writes in the Huffington Post to say the whole notion of taking what is good for the Jews into account is itself part of the problem.

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It’s a truism that most American Jews are not one-issue voters with regard to Israel. They have a multiplicity of concerns about church-and-state issues. The majority of American Jews are politically liberal and view social justice issues as integral to their worldview if not their faith. But it is one thing to argue these other concerns as well as those related to Israel’s future must be considered when voting. It is quite another to say they must not only supersede support for Israel, but that the Jewish state’s survival may be considered a minor concern when compared to one element of the liberal agenda.

That is more or less the position taken by Jewish environmental activists who say their cause must take precedence over promoting American energy independence, which would thereby reduce our dependence on the Arab oil that finances both terrorism and regimes that support the war on Israel. Indeed, in denouncing the American Jewish Committee’s justified support for the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada recently halted by President Obama, Joelle Novey writes in the Huffington Post to say the whole notion of taking what is good for the Jews into account is itself part of the problem.

Novey is shocked that the organized Jewish world — which is, she neglects to note, largely in line with her point of view with regard to global warming — was absent from the successful effort to strong arm Obama into canceling Keystone XL. The reason for this is that though most Jewish groups agree with the liberal conventional wisdom about the environment, they know that promoting North American oil exploration and production is vital to American and Israeli security.

But for Novey, the minor issue of what is good for Israel — which remains under siege from a Muslim and Arab world still intent on its destruction — pales besides what she seems to think is the imminent end of the planet. To bolster her argument, she paints a picture of global warming that far exceeds what even most responsible environmental scientists claim about the planet’s future. This is a typical tactic of global warmers who, as the Climategate e-mail scandal revealed, believe they must resort to wild exaggerations in order to convince a skeptical public to embrace measures that will harm the economy. It is in this context that she transforms a complicated issue like Keystone XL from one on which reasonable persons can differ into a black-and-white case where supporters of the project can be demonized and delegitimized.

Novey’s position is the earth’s well-being trumps any petty worries about Israel. While there is a certain facile logic to this point of view — no earth, therefore no Israel; no earth, no reason to celebrate the Sabbath — it is something of a snare. To pretend as if this project will literally cook the earth is absurd. Even if one were to accept, as most Jewish groups do, her frame of reference about the environment, to claim that all fossil fuel exploration and development must be halted–even those that might boost American energy independence–is extreme if not completely indefensible.

But beyond the breezy apocalyptic nature of her argument against Keystone XL is the assumption that those Jews and groups who view the survival of Israel as well as American national security as a critical issue have their priorities out of whack. Her view describes a world in which Israel’s fate can always be called into question. The notion of caring about the well-being of Israel can always be trumped by a popular liberal issue of the day. Such a mindset makes it difficult to imagine any defense of Israel or Jewish interests possible on any account.

While some in the organized Jewish world have sought to promote a specific Jewish environmentalism in order to entice unaffiliated youngsters into the Jewish world, Novey’s treatise mocking the very idea of Jewish communal interests sets that largely futile quest on its head. If, as Cynthia Ozick once put it so well, universalism is the parochialism of the Jews, then Novey and her global warming alarmist crowd have now taken that insight to new heights of absurdity.

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Romney’s Gaffe Helps Gingrich Stay on Top

Mitt Romney picked a bad time to have his worst moment during one of the Republican presidential debates. Few will remember or care whether he was right that Rick Perry was misquoting what Romney wrote in his book about his Massachusetts health care bill. But Romney’s betting Perry $10,000 that he didn’t write what Perry said he did will linger in the public’s memory like Perry’s own “oops” moment when he forgot which government agency he wanted to shut down.

Romney’s flippant reminder of his wealth — he bet $10k as easily as most people would wager a $10 bill — at Saturday night’s ABC News/Des Moines Register debate was the most memorable moment at an event in which his goal was to put the heat on frontrunner Newt Gingrich. But instead it was Romney who looked shaky and Gingrich relaxed and confident. Every time the former Speaker found himself in the crosshairs of either his opponents or the moderators, he held his own easily. Though he was pressed hard on his record on health care, the Middle East, immigration and his marital infidelity, Gingrich never faltered. Coming as it did after two weeks in which his poll ratings had soared and Romney’s declined, Gingrich could not have asked for a better evening.

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Mitt Romney picked a bad time to have his worst moment during one of the Republican presidential debates. Few will remember or care whether he was right that Rick Perry was misquoting what Romney wrote in his book about his Massachusetts health care bill. But Romney’s betting Perry $10,000 that he didn’t write what Perry said he did will linger in the public’s memory like Perry’s own “oops” moment when he forgot which government agency he wanted to shut down.

Romney’s flippant reminder of his wealth — he bet $10k as easily as most people would wager a $10 bill — at Saturday night’s ABC News/Des Moines Register debate was the most memorable moment at an event in which his goal was to put the heat on frontrunner Newt Gingrich. But instead it was Romney who looked shaky and Gingrich relaxed and confident. Every time the former Speaker found himself in the crosshairs of either his opponents or the moderators, he held his own easily. Though he was pressed hard on his record on health care, the Middle East, immigration and his marital infidelity, Gingrich never faltered. Coming as it did after two weeks in which his poll ratings had soared and Romney’s declined, Gingrich could not have asked for a better evening.

The debate illustrated again that the “new Newt” is a formidable debater. Though he is still capable of getting off message and saying controversial things, rather than fly off the handle, the former Speaker’s steady demeanor and cool ability to hit back every time he is challenged has served him well. And on Saturday night, it was Romney who looked flustered, not Gingrich.

Though the debate began with a discussion of economics, this latest edition of America’s favorite political reality show sometimes got bogged down in odd sidebars. Among the most curious was the lengthy discussion of whether or not Gingrich was right to say that the Palestinians are an “invented people.” Romney tried to position himself so as to seem to agree with Gingrich’s pro-Israel opinion but at the same time claim that his opponent was acting irresponsibly and causing unnecessary trouble for both Israel and the United States.

But true to form, Gingrich doubled down by asserting that he was merely stating a historical fact. Even better, Gingrich compared his willingness to tell the truth to the Arabs to Ronald Reagan’s calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” That was a bull’s eye with Republican voters even if Romney might be right that it was not a prudent thing for a potential president to say. Though Gingrich may not have gained many votes on this issue other than with the hard-line pro-Israel community and evangelicals, by standing his ground, he won the point.

Just as deft was his handling of the one of his biggest problems: his troubled personal life. Though many of his competitors claimed that character was an issue, with Rick Perry going so far as to assert that anyone who would cheat on his wife would cheat on a business partner, Gingrich was able to return serve even on this sore point. He did so by admitting he’d made mistakes and saying he’s asked God to forgive him. The implication was that if God could forgive him, where does anyone else get off having a problem with it?

Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann also had strong performances that may help one or the other toward a respectable finish in Iowa and might help them stay in the race. But the bottom line was that on a night when Romney needed to start taking Gingrich down a peg or two, he failed. Though Gingrich remains vulnerable on a host of issues, the Iowa debate lends credence to the notion his surge is far from over. That’s bad news for a Romney candidacy that right now looks to be in serious trouble.

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