Gingrich and the Golden Rule

Once upon a time, Newt Gingrich was a professor of history, and since he is now competing to become the Republican presidential candidate, his record as a historian is being mined for clues about his political views. Needless to say, Gingrich’s professorial past doesn’t necessarily impress his critics – indeed, Gingrich has already been advised to “read a history book.” If he followed this advice, he could read one of the books he wrote

Unsurprisingly, Gingrich also got some history lessons in response to his recent observation that historically, “there was no Palestine as a state” and that the Palestinians are an “invented” people “who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community.”

Responding to Gingrich’s statement, Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine asserted that “there was no Israel and no such thing as an ‘Israeli people’ before 1948. So the idea that Palestinians are ‘an invented people’ while Israelis somehow are not is historically indefensible and inaccurate. Such statements seem to merely reflect deep historical ignorance and an irrational hostility towards Palestinian identity and nationalism.”

While Ibish conveniently ignores the fact that the “Land of Israel” as well as the “Israelites” are of course biblical concepts, he is not entirely wrong, because – as Walter Russell Mead demonstrates in an essay devoted to Gingrich’s statement – it is indeed easy to argue that national identity is often an “invented” construct. At the same time, Mead acknowledges that Gingrich’s statement “is not factually incorrect as far as it goes;” yet, he is also sharply critical of Gingrich, arguing that his “error isn’t to say that Palestinian identity is to some degree invented; his error is to use that fact to undercut the reality and legitimacy of the Palestinian national movement.”

Mead also emphasizes that “both the US and Israel need people who can make a sober and reasoned case for the legitimacy of the Jewish state and of America’s support for it in ways that reduce international misunderstanding of and opposition to the two countries. But unfortunately remarks like Mr. Gingrich’s (to be fair, a short aside in a longer interview) make that conversation harder, not easier to have.”

While I would largely agree with Mead’s post, I think it’s worthwhile contemplating the notion that there is still a need to “make a sober and reasoned case for the legitimacy of the Jewish state and of America’s support for it in ways that reduce international misunderstanding of and opposition to the two countries.”

Obviously, Mead believes that it is utterly counterproductive to respond to the prevalent questioning of the Jewish state’s legitimacy by Palestinians and the larger Arab and Muslim world by pointing out the fact that the case for a Palestinian state is not based on a long-established and historically-rooted Palestinian national identity.

But I’m not sure if this really true.

As Adam Levick points out on Cif Watch, the non-existent state of Palestine is already recognized by some 125 of the 193 UN member states – while Israel, more than six decades after its acceptance as a UN member state, is still not recognized by 36 UN members, including 30 Muslim majority countries. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence showing that the UN supports a veritable “infrastructure of anti-Israel propaganda” and devotes truly disproportionate resources and energies to censuring Israel.

So while Israel and its supporters are supposed to play by the rules of fairness and to strictly observe the dictates of political correctness, the rule for the supporters of Palestine seems to be “anything goes.”

But it turns out that when the Palestinians find themselves at the receiving end of even the slightest breach of political correctness, the result could most definitely be described as a “teachable moment.”

Consider some of the Palestinian reactions to Gingrich’s statement:

Saeb Erekat, the veteran Palestinian peace negotiator, characterized Gingrich’s statements as “despicable,” asserting that they not only reflected “the lowest point of thinking anyone can reach” but also contributed to “the cycle of violence.”

Hanan Ashrawi, another veteran Palestinian spokesperson, described Gingrich’s remarks as “very racist” and “an invitation to further conflict rather than any contribution to peace.”

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, asserted that Gingrich had made “grave comments that represented an incitement for ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians.”

If all these Palestinian officials familiarized themselves with the “Golden Rule” that admonishes us to “do as you would be done by,” we can look forward to a bright future in which no Palestinian – and no Arab or Muslim – will ever think of denying Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.

Crossposted from the JPost


3 responses to “Gingrich and the Golden Rule

  1. The AP, as set forth in the British “newspaper,” the Guardian, takes the view that Gingrich’s claim is wrong. Here is the AP claim: “Most historians mark the start of Palestinian Arab nationalist sentiment as 1834, when Arab residents of the Palestinian region revolted against Ottoman rule.” Source:

    It is stuff like that which makes someone like Gingrich seem sane and, frankly, doing a public service. Note the transposition by the AP/Guardian of Palestinian into Palestinian Arab, meaning that, as used, what is actually being asserted is that most historians date Arab nationalist sentiment among Arabs in what the UK then called Palestine as beginning in 1834 – not what the context of the statement seems to state.

    I am not even sure that Arab nationalist sentiment in 1834 held much Arab interest but, I suppose, there were Arabs and some of those who lived in what the UK called Palestine pined in 1834 on behalf of an Arab national politics. But, to claim that it was separate from Syrian national claims or, for that matter, more general pan-Arab claims and, more than like, from a more Arab driven Islamic “national” claim, is nonsense. One need only read Zeine N. Zeine’s excellent book, The Emergence of Arab Nationalism, on the topic or any other book not written by propagandists on Arab nationalism.

    You might want to write a post on the effort by papers like the Guardian to embarrass themselves by saying pretty much anything, if it helps the Arab cause against Israel.

    That does not make Gingrich’s statement a good idea for settling the dispute. That may or may not be the case. My inclination is to think that if – and I think I follow on your point – Arabs and their allies can spend their time denying all Jewish claims in Israel, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. And, the Jewish claim to be a people is sure a lot easier to make with a straight face than the claim that there has been a long standing people known as Palestinians, notwithstanding the lack of a separate national history, cultural history, religious history, linguistic history or any other indicia by which every other claim of people-hood has ever been asserted.

    • Re. the Guardian, Cif Watch is doing an amazing job — so much so that they were even acknowledged in an recent Guardian column on antisemitism. But in any case, don’t forget that you could also pitch in….

  2. Pingback: Reflections on the invention of peoples | The Warped Mirror

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