This past week GOP presidential candidate hopeful Newt Gingrich, from his new perch as alleged frontrunner, made two controversial statements regarding Israel and the Palestinians. Here was Wednesday:
Newt Gingrich told a gathering of Jewish Republicans Wednesday that he would name former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton to be his secretary of state if elected president, and would immediately move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Mr. Gingrich showed his trademark flare for provocation as he spoke at a presidential candidates’ forum sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition, pledging not to let President Barack Obama dodge his invitation to debate and invoking Mr. Bolton, who advocates an interventionist foreign policy and hawkish stance toward Iran, a longtime antagonist of Israel.
On Friday, Gingrich claimed that the Palestinians are an “invented” people, in an interview with the Jewish Channel Cable Network:
“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state,” he said. “I think we have an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and historically part of the Arab community and they had the chance to go many places.”
The promise on Bolton prompted some to question whether or not Gingrich may have violated some law by offering up Bolton’s name. He had not. He’s not the first presidential candidate to promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, either. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush made the same campaign promise, only to forget about it once elected.
Gingrich’s statement regarding the Palestinian peoples’ authenticity has elicited some severe criticism from Palestinians in the occupied territories:
The Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, demanded that Gingrich “review history.”
“From the beginning, our people have been determined to stay on their land,” Fayyad said in comments reported by the Palestinian news agency Wafa. “This, certainly, is denying historical truths.”
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, accused Gingrich of incitement. “Mark my words … these statements of Gingrich’s will be the ammunitions and weapons of the bin Ladens and the extremists for a long, long time,” Erekat told CNN.
Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi, a top official in the PLO, said that Gingrich was seeking a “cheap way” to win Jewish and pro-Israel voters in next year’s election.
Sen. Carl Levin, from Michigan, a state with many relocated Palestinians, was critical:
[Levin] said “Gingrich’s cynical efforts to attract attention to himself with divisive and destructive statements will not help his presidential ambitions since they are aimed at putting the peace between Israel and the Palestinians that Americans yearn for even further out of reach than it is today.”
The presidential hopeful, Levin said, “offered no solutions — just a can of gasoline and a match.”
The reactions prompted his campaign to have to issue a clarification today:
Mr. Gingrich’s spokesman issued a clarification Saturday afternoon. “Newt Gingrich supports a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which will necessarily include agreement between Israel and the Palestinians over the borders of a Palestinian state,” the spokesman, R.C. Hammond, said in a statement.
“However, to understand what is being proposed and negotiated you have to understand decades of complex history, which is exactly what Gingrich was referencing during the recent interview with The Jewish Channel.”
The competition among GOP presidential race candidates to show who is most loyal to the Jewish State is keen. Remarking on how ridiculous some GOP statements of fealty to Zionism have been, one @chucktodd tweeted:
Will someone one-up Romney and pledge to give their inaugural address FROM Israel?
Israel has come up more in these debates than it did in the 2004 and 2008 national election cycles. Many have predicted this would happen, as the GOP candidates seem to feel compelled to outdo each other in criticism of Obama’s policies regarding this conflict.
The goal of these candidates, in bringing up Israel, is not so much designed to court Jewish Republican voters, but to court Christian Zionists. 78% of American Jews voted for Obama in 2008, and most will vote for him again. Fundamentalist Christians who believe in the necessity of repopulating the “Holy Land” with Jews to facilitate the coming of the end times represent a high percentage of the GOP voters who will determine their party’s candidate in the caucuses and primaries.
I’m wondering if Gingrich is going to get off scott free on his statements and misstatements this past week. Ron Paul, who was banished from the Republican Jewish Coalition debate, for having been critical of Israeli policies in the past, will probably lead attacks on Gingrich, but may steer clear of this set of issues.
Gingrich really is a target-rich candidate for a host of reasons.