In the last few days before the ABC News GOP candidate debate this weekend, Newt Gingrich managed to get the most prominent headlines from among the set of them, with his statement Friday to the Jewish Channel Cable TV 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.”
In a diary here Saturday about this, I speculated:
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.
In a post-debate panel discussion Saturday on Current TV, Cenk Uygur pressed his panel on this same point:
Uygur seemed more animated in bringing this up than any of his panelists. But he was able to do that. I doubt he would have been cleared to go down this line if he was still at MSNBC.
After the Palestine issue came up during the debate, while it was still happening, Max Blumenthal tweeted:
Sawyer & Stephanapoulos smile & avoid pointed follow-up questions to racist and ahistorical invective against Palestinians
“Racist and ahistorical invective” it was. Though Sawyer and Stephanapoulos (and Al Gore on Cenk’s panel) were far beyond merely glib, other news sources did follow-up.
The Washington Post fact-checked Gingrich’s debate claim about Palestinian textbooks:
“These people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools. They have textbooks that say, ‘If there are 13 Jews and nine Jews are killed, how many Jews are left?’ We pay for those textbooks through our aid money. ”
During the debate, Gingrich reiterated his controversial claim the Palestinians are an “invented people,” which has been criticized in some Republican quarters. But he also raised a new charge about Palestinian textbooks, which he said the United States pays for “through our aid money.”
This funding claim is correct only in an indirect sense: The United States is the largest single-state donor for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), providing nearly $250 million in 2011. As a recent Congressional Research Service report made clear, this funding is closely scrutinized by Congress. But UNRWA underwrites the schooling of Palestinian refugees and thus provides money for textbooks
The issue of Palestinian textbooks is controversial, one the Palestinian Authority says it is addressing. We cannot immediately find evidence of the statement claimed by Gingrich, and it is not clear if he is referring to a statement in one of the newer textbooks.
There have been a number of reports by pro-Israel groups that say the textbooks in Palestinian schools reinforce hatred of Jews. But one Palestinian expert has argued that studies in English that claim to show such bias in Palestinian textbooks are “based on innuendo, exaggeration, and downright lies.”
Here is what the State Department’s human rights report said about the new Palestinian text books:
The PA Ministry of Education and Higher Education completed the revision of its primary and secondary textbooks in 2006. International academics concluded the textbooks did not incite violence against Jews, but showed imbalance, bias, and inaccuracy. Some maps in Palestinian textbooks did not depict the current political reality, showing neither Israel nor the settlements. Palestinian textbooks, used in Palestinian schools, as well as in Jerusalem municipality-administered schools in East Jerusalem, inconsistently defined the 1967 borders and failed to label areas and cities with both Arabic and Hebrew names.
But the Israeli media has reported that Israeli educational system “is hardly better than the Palestinian one when it comes to inserting political messages in textbooks.”
The WaPo story didn’t address the issues of Palestinian authenticity, the “rocket every day” canard, or unwillingness of Palestinians to cut a fair deal with the Israelis, because, Newt alleges, they instead want that ” not a single Jew will remain.”
Let’s examine the authenticity issue. On Friday, in the JCCTV interview, Gingrich said:
“Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman empire.” He added that Palestinians were “an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs”.
Give that historian an “F-minus.”
The most authentic early mention of Palestine that has come down to us from an author outside of the Levant, is that of Herodotus, in his 420BCE book, the Histories. He described “Syria Palaistine” several times. But no Israel. The earliest local authentic description of a word used elsewhere to identify the geographic area known more recently as Palestine, was about 700 years earlier, with the use by the XX Dynasty of Egypt (c. 1150 BCE) of the term “Peleset.” But no Israel. That term did not exist to define a physical place until later.
1150 to 420 BCE were important times in the history of Judaism, and fundamentalist Christianity. But a lot of what has and has not been found archeologically, that might show evidence of a strong state in the area of Palestine, that was predominantly or solely Jewish in a sense we might recognize, leaves immense holes in any assertion that accepts much of what early-date Biblical material fundamentalists believe as fact. Many of these supposed historical events that fundamentalists accept as fact are not. They are myths.
Since Herodotus called the area Syria Palaistine, the area now comprising Israel, Gaza and the occupied West Bank, has been called something like that by post-Alexandrian Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Caliphs, Crusaders, Ottomans and British. They have called the place “Palestine.”
So many tribes have moved into and out of the place over the thousands of years, that the political constructs of Arab and Jew, or Palestinian and Israeli are just that – political. In countries that call themselves Muslim states or Jewish states, politics IS religion all too often.
The argument Gingrich is attempting to bring to the fore here isn’t just calculated to gain a few fundamentalist votes in Iowa and elsewhere. It is a conscious effort by an experienced candidate to dig down into the lower reaches of the ideologies of GOP primary likely voters, to begin bringing out the same enthusiasm Palin could pull off in 2008.
Gingrich’s main inroads right now may be among Christian Zionists who were supporting Cain, and from a peeling away of evangelicals who were trying to digest Romney. Maybe somebody reliable is polling that.
We’ll see if he can pull it off. Maybe having Franklin Graham re-convert him to fundamentalism after Newt carries Pennsylvania (April 24th) would help cinch the deal. After all, this is the most cynical and desperate set of major candidates many of us have ever witnessed.