Monday December 12, 2011
Ahistorical and Dangerous: Gingrich On Palestine
By Jamila Benkato
Recent articles have questioned Newt Gingrich’s mental state, and Republicans as far to the right as Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) have decried his undisciplined and self-centered behavior. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has opposed Gingrich as far back as 1996, when he said that Gingrich had an "attitude that appeals to the mentality of hillbillies at revival meetings." Even conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin has repeatedly blasted the former Speaker’s credibility.
Despite all of this, recent CBS and ABC News/Washington Post polls show Gingrich with a significant lead over Romney among Republican voters. So, somehow, a percentage of the American people are continuing to buy into Gingrich’s vision for the future. It has therefore become imperative to address Gingrich’s extreme language – and indeed, the extremism which his language reveals.
Gingrich’s current view on Palestine is a major shift away from the mainstream Republican stance. In 2007, President George W. Bush described “a vision of a peaceful state called Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people.” President Bush repeatedly and emphatically argued for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian crisis, as did Republican members of his administration such as Condoleezza Rice. Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-IN), Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Sen. John Sununu (R -NH) are just a few of the Republican Senators who have emphasized a two-state solution – an Israeli state and a state for the Palestinian people. More recently, U.S. policy and even official Israeli state policy recognize the Palestinians as a people – it is quite obviously one of assumptions underlying the entire mainstream “peace process” conversation.
By contrast, during an interview with the Jewish Channel last week, Gingrich suggested that we are dealing with “an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places.” This last statement is definitely not true of any other people who might be currently living on the land in question…right? And if being part of the larger Arab community eliminates any more specific identity claims, there are also (Gingrich might be glad to hear) no such thing as Iraqis, Egyptians, or Jordanians. In fact, this argument puts him squarely in company of extremists such as Rachel Abrams, who habitually puts quotation marks around the word “Palestinian” in her hateful online screeds. (Michele Bachmann’s tone during a recent speech led to the transcript including this misleading punctuation, as well.)
These remarks followed Gingrich’s December 3rd appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s candidate forum, where he and his fellow candidates repeatedly lambasted Obama for being “ambiguous,” “weak,” and “one-sided” towards Israel. (In fact, as MJ Rosenberg eloquently points out, Obama has been praised by Prime Minister Netanyahu for his “uncritical” approach.) In a confusing argument about Palestine and radical Islam, Gingrich reduces these groups to “mortal enemies that are determined to kill us.” In other words, not people with a legitimate cause, or even people with an illegitimate cause – or even people.
Gingrich added insult to injury this past Saturday, at the Iowa Republican Debate at Drake University. Defending his comments to the Jewish Channel, Gingrich asked, “Is what I said factually correct? Yes. Is it historically true? Yes.” He continued: “Hamas does not admit the right of Israel to exist, and says publicly, ‘Not a single Jew will remain.’…Somebody oughta have the courage to tell the truth: These people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools.” Ironically, Gingrich’s rhetoric this past week, decrying Palestinian extremism, reflects anti-Palestinian extremism in this country. Abrams, on her blog BadRachel, celebrated the release of Gilad Shalit by referring to Palestinians as “child-sacrificing savages,” “devil’s spawn,” “animals,” and “food for sharks.” Anything but relatable, anything but empathetic – anything but human.
Indeed, although Gingrich has repeatedly complained that Obama’s approach is “one-sided” against Israel, it is not Israel who is paternalistically expected to voluntarily give up her right to self-determination and ask permission to exist from an antagonistic occupying state. Any description of the so-called “peace process” as one-sided towards the Palestinians is an obscenely disingenuous twisting of reality.
In his Jewish Channel appearance, Gingrich accuses the Palestinian Authority of wanting to wipe Israel – and by extension Israelis – off the face of the earth. Of course, there are extreme elements present in Palestine, but Mahmoud Abbas in fact told the UN that, “We do not want and we do not seek to delegitimize Israel by applying for membership in the United Nations, but to delegitimize its settlement activities and the seizure of our occupied lands.” And, as the UN is aware, Israel’s current treatment of Palestinians – both in the Occupied Territories and within Israel’s legal boundaries – amount to apartheid and in certain cases have bordered on genocide. It can and has been argued that the right-wing in Israel does actually want Palestinians to disappear.
Denying the existence of a people, and denying the existence of a people’s right to identify themselves as such, is a dangerous and familiar rhetorical tool. In this country, that tool continues to be used against people of Native American descent. Members of tribes not recognized by federal or state governments continue to fight for their land, sacred spaces, minority rights, and for social services provided to “official” or “real” tribes. Tribes, today and in the past, have had to prove their “authenticity” to a foreign and disinterested entity by such dehumanizing means as blood quantums – proving that an individual’s blood contains the mandated amount of “Indian” DNA.
And of course there are many more recent episodes of history which began with the denial of a people, or of an identity, and which ended in tragedy and despair. Dehumanizing one’s perceived enemy makes it that much easier to treat them as something less than human – to, for example, remove them from their land, or deny the right of return to that land.
Gingrich’s language smacks of these antiquated and hopelessly bigoted ways of thinking. Israel was not terra nullius – an empty land. This is a trope of the right-wing Israeli propaganda machine. Gingrich’s attempt to erase the history of the Palestinian people is not only Israeli propaganda, but old and discredited Israeli propaganda! Gingrich has not been alone in parroting Israeli talking points to the American public – Michele Bachmann suggested this weekend that Palestinian textbooks teach children that Jews are “pigs and swine and descendants from Hades” – but the former Speaker’s recent comments and his status as a “serious” candidate have taken the discussion to a new level.
The Palestinians are not an invented people. They are as real as the American people, and are without a doubt as real as the Israeli people. And these real people have been displaced, killed, tortured, starved, imprisoned, and robbed with impunity. The United States stands alone in its unconditional support of Israel, and Gingrich stands alone among the GOP candidates in his extreme and hateful view. He has stood by his remarks; the Republican Party must decide if it will stand by while their primary is highjacked by a political and moral extremist.blog comments powered by Disqus