Commentary Magazine


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.”

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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