Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


The Gingrich Invention

The GOP frontrunner’s device for catering to pro-Israel base

Print Email
Romney and Gingrich Saturday night.(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The Republicans had their highest-profile (and most-viewed) presidential debate Saturday night on ABC, and during the whole time, in a sign of its centrality to the race, only one foreign-policy issue came up for an extended period of time: Israel. The candidates were asked about new frontrunner Newt Gingrich’s comment that the Palestinians are an “invented” people. Gingrich defended it, saying it was “factually correct” and “historically true,” and then going on the offensive: accusing Palestinian leaders of stirring up hatred among their people and the Obama Administration of not having “the guts to stand up and say, ‘Enough lying about the Middle East.’ ” Mitt Romney, who needs to pick a fight with Gingrich on everything he can in order to compete, responded, “I happen to agree with—with most of what the Speaker said, except by going down and saying the Palestinians are an invented people.”

As virtually every commentator has agreed, the Palestinians are an invented people. And, as virtually every commentator has agreed, bringing this up is irrelevant at best and almost certainly counterproductive and undiplomatic—unpresidential, really. The relatively recent vintage of the Palestinians’ self-invention (which you could argue didn’t occur until 1948 or even later, and you could also argue originated as early as the 19th century) isn’t really germane; its validity has been forged by a large group of actually existing people’s belief in it. (Elliot Abrams put it eloquently: “There was no Jordan or Syria or Iraq, either, so perhaps he would say they are all invented people as well and also have no right to statehood,” he said. “Whatever was true then, Palestinian nationalism has grown since 1948, and whether we like it or not, it exists.”)

Recognizing the legitimacy of Palestinian claims to the land (indeed, to all the land) is essential, I’ve argued, because you can then weigh that against the equal legitimacy of Israeli claims to all the land and conclude that the only just solution is splitting the land into two states. Gingrich is trafficking in a combination of long-discredited history and deliberate—to use a deliberately loaded word—delegitimization of the Palestinian cause, which in addition to being wrong and immoral is highly dangerous given how easily it could be applied to “invented” Israeli identity.

In fact, though (like Romney and Gingrich) I disagreed with Rep. Ron Paul’s call to re-evaluate aid to Israel and everyone else, I agreed with his diagnosis of the “invented” remark: “That’s just stirrin’ up trouble,” he observed. Already the Arab League condemned it, which is unusual for a statement in a presidential primary. “This statement is unwise,” Ghaith al-Omari, whose American Task Force on Palestine has received plaudits from pro-Israel groups, said. “Rather than trying to delegitimize or undermine the narrative of either side, it would be much more productive to work towards a solution that guarantees the security and future of both the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

Ah, but does that win you votes? Americans are about to learn what Israelis and Palestinians know all too well: that all leaders are constrained by their constituencies, and that if leaders’ constituencies reward a certain kind of talk, then more of that kind of talk will follow.

Newt, Palestinians, and the GOP Debate [JTA Capital J]
Gingrich Calls Palestinians An ‘Invented’ People [WP]
Newt, the Jews, and an ‘Invented’ People [New Yorker News Desk]
Earlier: Rick Perry’s Ascent Heralds Israel’s Rise As Issue
’67 Was Always the Only Option

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

Does your writer believe that hiding the truth is counterproductive? He fails to mention that Jordan occupied the West Bank for nearly two decades without a whisper of protest from anyone. What the candidates are playing for is not the Jewish vote per se but the vast number of Christian Zionists who are essential for their election victory.The vast majority of Jews are so committed to the Democratic party that they are wishfully complicit in the current administration’s obvious blame Israel program.

Left wing Jews are the best Christians in the world. they love enemies of Jews so much.(as long as they are on the left as well) One wonders would they have loved the Nazis as much? After all, aren’t leftist and rightist anti-Semitic goals the same-elimination of all traces of Judaism?

The flaw in the Tracy article is not the suggestion that today there exists a Palestinian People with claims to self-determination, independence and territory. The problem is rather Tracy’s view that the rights of the newly self-identified Palestinian People are in every way identical to those of the ancient Jewish People. If the respective rights of the Jewish People and the Palestinian People are in some ways a bit different, there is actually more prospect of reconciling the subsequent rights of the Palestinians with the prior rights of the Jews (see “Aboriginal Rights of the Jewish People” at Mirabile dictu, the Jewish People actually does have recognized aboriginal and treaty rights that the newly self-identified Palestinian People lacks. Here’s how it might work in practice: The actual division of territory between the Jordan River and the Sea should probably be mostly according to the principle of the self-determination of Peoples. To the new Palestinian State would likely go those areas “now” mostly inhabited by Palestinians, wishing to live in the new Palestinian State. Areas “now” mostly inhabited by Jews should probably become part of Israel, without “legal” requirement to compensate for some Israel presence beyond the 1949 Green Line. But beyond territory, Jewish aboriginal and treaty rights call for guaranteed and secure Jewish access to certain religious sites, sacred to Judaism for more than 2,000 years. Moreover, because Jews are a vulnerable indigenous minority in the larger Muslim and Arab Middle East, Jewish aboriginal and self-determination rights probably argue for specific measures for Jewish security. These would probably be of a military character (e.g., an “unmilitarized” Palestine). But security also requires recognition of the legitimacy and permanence of Israel as “the” Jewish State, i.e. as political expression of the self-determination of the Jewish People in a small part of its larger aboriginal homeland.

I guess why it matters is that if the Palestinians are a relatively recently invented people (unlike the Israelis/Jews), then their motivation is not achieving a state, any state.

Perhaps that is why they have turned down offers of self-autonomy the equivalent of which would have thrilled the pre-Israel Jews, the Kurds, the Tibetans and so many others.

Recognizing the Palestinans’ true history gives a better understanding of their current motivations. Honesty about all of this is as wise as it is necessary.

Beatrix says:

Gingrich says he believes in a Palestinian state.

The Jews have 4,000 years of history in the Mideast. Palestine didn’t exist until the Romans renamed Israel Palestine after beating the Israelis in war 2,000 years ago, although both Jews and Arabs continued living on the land.

Their lack of historical nationhood is why the Palestinians are having trouble establishing a nation today. That doesn’t stop them from forming a country now—America didn’t become America until 235 years ago. And Israel believes in the two nation solution. The Palestinians just can’t take yes for an answer.

The Republicans were the party that brought the end to slavery. Maybe they’re the party that can bring peace to Israel and Palestine.

For shame. For once, an American leader speaks the truth about Israel. You then attack him for his honesty, for not tiptoeing around the reality like most politicians do. Would you really prefer that he not tell the truth, and that he instead support the fictions and false accusations that the Palestinians invent? The notion that he should be allowed to challenge some of their untruths but not others is shameful muzzling of our friends.

Most appalling to me is the subhead: “a device for catering to his pro-Jewish Jewish base.” We Jews finally get a truthful appraisal of Israel’s predicament, and you attack him by interpreting his motives in a negative light.

I thought Tablet was supposed to be non-partisan. I don’t understand your motives for this undermining of the rare person who tells the truth about the Palestinians and Israel. Shameful.

I feel like you owe a major apology to Gingrich, the GOP, and to all of us who read this website thinking it’s non-partisan and supportive of Israel .

“…delegitimization of the Palestinian cause, which in addition to being wrong and immoral is highly dangerous given how easily it could be applied to “invented” Israeli identity.”

This quote by Tracy makes me scratch my head. The Palestinian position is that Jews are an invented people who have no rights in Israel and no connection to Israel. This is the position of all major Palestinian groups — Fatah, Hamas, etc.

Ali Abdunimah, the theorist of the one-state BDS movement, has written repeatedly that if Jews were a people, they would be entitled to the right of political self determination in Israel, but because Jews aren’t a people, the Jews aren’t entitled to that right.

Right here in Tablet, in an interview conducted byTracy I believe, the PLO ambassador to the U.S. said there’s no such thing as the Jewish people. Abbas has said this as has Erekat.

What’s so absurd about the reaction to Gingrich’s remarks is the Palestinians saying the remarks constitute incitement, are racist and are an obstacle to peace. The Palestinians say the same thing about Jews as Gingrich said about the Palestinians everyday. It’s the official Palestinian position.

So the Palestinians are by their own standards racist who engage in daily incitement against Israel because they are opposed to peace. Yet people like Tracy (and the entire Obama administration) don’t have the courage to stand up and call out the Palestinians on this hypocrisy.

Gena Shapiro says:

Garry – do you think maybe you could keep your comments to the article instead of engaging in yet more paranoid fantasy about how horrible liberal Jews are? I think it would make engaging on these topics more pleasant. Thank you.

Salomon Mizrahi says:

Gingrich is not the only, nor the first to say “there is no Palestination nation”…This is a common thinking among the palestinians. They consider themselves as part of the Arab nation.
See Azmi Bichara , a palestinian arab, former deputy at the knesset saying it crystal clear

for Zlota says:

Gingrich is right. The outrage about it is the puzzle.

Prefacing my remarks by making it clear that I support the creation of an internationally recognized state for Palestinians, I think Marc R hits on something. A sense of peoplehood would seem to entail a corresponding set of realizable goals. Having rejected previous offers of autonomy, its just not clear what the Palestinians are after, nor, given their amorphous bundle of demands, how exactly Israel and the U.S. ought to respond. They have consistently refused face to face negotiations with Israel. Why? Doesn’t the desire for independence mandate it? Haven’t they achieved what they wanted, i.e., legitimacy in the international arena? Every country and people in the world has had its borders modified or adjusted-Germany, France, China…etc. Why can’t the Palestinian leadership accept reasonable limits on what can be expected in terms of territorial sovereignty? I do wonder whether a stronger sense of history would lend their movement greater political coherence, and if it might even reduce the room for latitude in a constructive way. Right now, every blogger on the planet has their own idea of how to demarcate the land in the Middle East, in a way that reflects the lack of a consensus on what constitutes Palestine. More history would be a helpful corrective.

brynababy says:

Enough badmouthing of “liberals”. There are liberals whose opinions I strongly oppose. There are liberals whose opinions and actions I support totally. I am a so-called Liberal and I support Israel, almost unconditionally, and yes Gingrich’s words are true, but anyone who thinks the reason for them is not to curry Jewish votes is a fool. The man is a slick, ambitious (in the worst sense of the word)opportunist who would throw we Jews under the bus if it served his purposes.

phillip baram says:

Even if Gingrich is mocked and ignored, and by Jewish pundits of course, the fact that he said what he said and is sticking by them does a lot to stop the speeding train of anti-Zionist vituperation and delegitimization, and the passive acceptance of the so-called Palestinian narrative.

Good for him, because maybe now the territories will be labeled disputed rather than occupied, and maybe the West Bank will finally be called in the press Judea and Samaria.

In short, if nothing else, Gingrich’s words expose the hollowness of the Palesitinian case and offer an opening and opportunity for the reconditioning of the public mind, and in Israel’s favor.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

The Gingrich Invention

The GOP frontrunner’s device for catering to pro-Israel base

More on Tablet:

Cruelty & Perversity: Postprandial Reflections on the PEN Protesters

By Paul Berman — The grim satire of the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ controversy, in context