Newt Gingrich and the Palestinians

Newt Gingrich’s comment, that the Palestinians are an “invented people” may have some truths buried in its mistaken terms but his words are terribly inadequate for a public statement by someone running for president.

Here’s what he’s saying. Just after World War there was neither an Israel nor a Palestine. The people of the world, or at least those in power, saw the horror of the Holocaust, listened to the cry of Jews in the world for a safe place to dwell, and they mandated the State of Israel. Mr Gingrich assumes that both to be true and good. His words express a very strongly pro-Israel stance, and it also implies a negative stance toward a Palestinian State. Of course, one could say that “Israel” was in 1948 “invented” (as a State) but it would be beyond silly to say Israelis were thereby an “invented people.”

Gingrich said the Palestinians are an “invented people.” Well, if you want to say Israel is an invented nation, then you could say that the development of a similar — important something Newt did not mention and should have — “invented nation” might occur for the Palestinians. And, there is the beginnings of such in the Palestinian Authority, and there are plenty who want to “invent” a “State” of Palestine. But….

What is just beyond wrong is to say the Palestinians are an invented “people.” Were they — as a people — invented? Sorry, Newt, they have been there for a long, long time though they have not been a State.

So the fair thing to do is to create a State called Palestine because we have a State called Israel. Then we will have two inventions, one called the State of Israel and one called the State of Palestine. But what we cannot “invent” is a “people.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Bob Smallman

    Well-said, Scot.

  • Ricky

    With Newt’s logic you could say that American’s are an invented people. Because until 1776 there was no such thing as an American.

  • David

    I think I understand what Newt is saying. It is no different than what I have said in the past, just said a little different. I do believe Scot your short opening paragraph said it all. From my perspective, Newt probably should have said it differently than he did. However, the word ‘Palestinians’ IS a contrived name. There are Jews, Egyptians, Arabs, etc. Many of these are who make up the so-called ‘Palestinians’. In a way, Newt is correct…just not ‘politically correct’.

  • JohnM

    David #3 – I agree, except why shouldn’t Gingrich say what he means and mean what he says? Ricky #2 – American’s ARE an invented people. So what?

    For the record, I don’t like Newt Gingrich.

  • TJJ

    History could also say that there already is a Palestinian State which was created, and that it is called Jordan. Jordan used to include the West Bank, and the West Bank would still be part of jordan today if Jordan has not been part of several military attacks/invasions against Israel.

    The UN offered another Palestinian State in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel. The Arabs rejected it. Because they rejected Israel. They still reject the right of Israel to exist.

    The Jewish people as a racial people group existed long before there was a modern state of Israel. And there was a historical state of Israel.

    The people group now called Palestinians did not exist as a racial or people group with any designation until the 20th century.

  • Robert

    Every nation and people has been ‘invented’ at some point. Palestinians are recent, along with many others, because of the development of the nation state and its spread round the world. If recently invented nations don’t count, perhaps someone needs to ask Mr Gingrich where he thinks that leaves the US?

  • Rick

    Robert #6-

    Did he say they did not “count”?

    From the AP release: “Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said afterward that the candidate was merely referring to the “decades-long history that has surrounded this issue,” and has long supported the concept of Palestinian statehood.”

  • Joe Canner

    Rick #7: According to the Washington Post, “Gingrich says Palestinians were historically part of the Arab community and that they had a chance to go many places.” The implication is that it was perfectly legitimate to push Arabs (who had been there for many generations) out of the land to make room for the Jews because the Arabs had plenty of other places to go and the Jews didn’t.

    TJJ #5: The “my lineage is longer than your lineage” argument doesn’t cut it. The fact is there were Arabs in the land long before 1948. So, the real question is: did the Arabs who had been living there get a fair shake when the UN created Israel?

  • Rick

    Joe #8-

    The comments from his spokesman came after Newt’s remarks.

    At the very least, Newt has poorly communicated what he meant to say and is now trying to repair the damage.

  • http://bobcornwall.com Bob Cornwall

    It needs to be remembered that until 1918 Palestine was part of the Ottoman (Islamic) Empire. When the Ottoman state imploded, the British and French carved up the Ottoman lands between themselves, in some places putting up states like Iraq. The British kept Palestine for themselves. There was increased Jewish immigration prior to the war and after WWII, the UN in essence created Israel, dividing the territory between Israel, Jordan (West Bank), and Egypt (Gaza). The key thing to remember is that when Israel was carved out of this territory it was done without ever asking the nations/peoples of the regions whether they wanted this to happen. They resisted, leading to the 1948 War, and then the 1967 War, in which Israel occupied Palestinian lands. They have done so ever since.

    Are the Palestinians an invented people, only in the sense that the territory that they have inhabited for generations no longer belongs to the Ottomans.

    But, what we hear from those on the right is not just that the Palestinians are an invented people but that Israel by rights has control over the entire area, which is why they support the Settlements (contravening international law).

  • EricW

    Nearly a hundred years ago, the orientalist and rabbi’s son Morris Jastrow wrote about the dangers and immoralities involved in establishing a Zionist Jewish State in Palestine at the expense of the peoples already living there:

    Jastrow, M., Jr. (1919). Zionism and the future of Palestine: The fallacies and dangers of political Zionism (i). New York: The Macmillan Company. You can read it at Google Books (this long URL may or may not fully display):

    http://books.google.com/books?id=j4w2AAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=zionism+and+the+future+of+palestine&hl=en&ei=gbzjTtCUPOmC2wWq36StBA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=zionism%20and%20the%20future%20of%20palestine&f=false

    His solution was for Jews to assimilate themselves in European society and wherever else they lived.

    Well, WWII and the Holocaust showed that his solution was no longer tenable. (Jastrow died in 1921; maybe he would have changed his mind.) Everyone should read his book, however, if only for the perspective he gives on the situation from that era of our history.

    The solution offered, i.e., the U.N. Partition based on where the Jewish vs. non-Jewish people were already clustered, can be seen to be ultimately unworkable: the map looks like a colon afflicated with severe diverticulitis and various impactions. No Jewish (or other) nation shaped and partitioned like that, crowed on various sides by enemies, can strategically maintain and defend itself forever, especially if it allows non-Jews or Jews who aren’t pledged to Israel’s singular Jewish identity to become active members and citizens of its society with equal voting rights.

    IMO it was doomed from the start, and we may be the ones who see its demise.

  • http://bobcornwall.com Bob Cornwall

    Although recently fired by Baylor, Jewish liberation theologian and supporter of Palestinian rights, Marc Ellis is a must read. Whether or not you agree with him, he offers a rather unique perspective on this question.

  • Barb

    http://media.whitworth.edu/Podcast/11_12/MarkBraverman10_20_11.mp3
    This link is to a lecture by Mark Braverman, given at Whitworth University in October. It takes a while to listen to and it won’t fit on a bumbersticker. It calls for a much different solution than we are used to hearing about. I’m not saying that I am swallowing this hook, line, and sinker–but I do find it very appealing–in a third way sort of way.

  • Bill

    Anytime this subject is discussed, no one points out that the issue is the old city of Jerusalem and the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The Palestinians are being disingenuous by not admitting that they will never settle for less than complete ownership and control of those areas. That is really the only issue.

  • Dana Ames

    It seems that Newt, like most people, has forgotten that a significant portion of the Palestinian population (though like the rest of the Middle East, a notably declining portion) is Christian.

    Dana

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Well said Scot.

    Bill#14, I have thought similar. Do you have any documentation for that?

  • Fish

    You aren’t going to get elected by opposing the Israel-firsters. There are too many Christians who see unconditional and undying support for Israel as part of God’s plan for America. Gingrich is not trying to be geographically or culturally correct; he’s trying to get votes.

  • http://morechrist.blogspot.com K.W. Leslie

    Fish: exactly my thought.

    Your average American neither knows nor cares that a significant number of Palestinians are fellow Christians. (If they know they’re Christian, they just figure they’re not real Christians, or “our sort” of Christian.) They assume they’re all Muslims, and regardless of how long their ancestors have lived in Israel, they’re not God’s chosen people like the Jews. So it’s okay to dispossess and segregate them.

    Besides, their End Times Timeline includes a temple on the Temple Mount, and that’s not gonna happen until the Muslims are out of the way. Add a sprinkle of guilt for centuries of anti-Semitism, a big pile of it for not doing enough during the Holocaust, and here we are: An America that is so pro-Israel that it turns a blind eye to the Israelis’ repeated violations of the Law.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    Well put, Scot. The modern nation-state is a relatively recent “invention” in world history, but what Gingrich said was simply silly, & especially puzzling given his PhD in history.

  • Rob O.

    Newt was not talking about “invented” in the sense of not having a state yet. He really meant what TJJ is saying in post number 5. I’ve come across this argument before in the blogosphere. It’s basically a way of saying the Palestinians don’t have a right to their own state and should all migrate to other Arab nations. Those people understand that Newt is giving them a shout out.

    What this view neglects is that 1) Arabs are not all identical, and 2) the ancestral homeland of the Christian and Muslim Arabs whom we call Palestinians is the land known as Palestine, not modern Jordan or any other modern Arab nation-state.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I thought all the candidates in the debate did fairly well on this question, except for Perry. My goodness, this is just a minor point?

  • Percival

    TJJ #5,

    “The Jewish people as a racial people group existed long before there was a modern state of Israel. And there was a historical state of Israel.”

    This statement is correct but ignores so many things that it distorts the historical realities and misleads.

    1) The Jewish people has not been a racial group since at least the Sinai covenant. The racial mix of Israelis is much more diverse than the Palestinians.

    2) The historical state of Israel has not existed for over 2000 years. It is like saying the ruins of Zimbabwe give legitimacy to the current government of Robert Mugabe.

    3) The modern state of Israel is as invented as any state ever was. They invented a language (modern Hebrew), engineered a national consciousness, and displaced through immigration the people who lived there.

    Newt, is either speaking from ignorance or is deliberately pandering to the Jewish establishment decision-makers and the evangelical mob.

  • Joshua Wooden

    @ TJJ

    when you said, “The people group now called Palestinians did not exist as a racial or people group with any designation until the 20th century.” That’s not accurate. Arabs have been living in Israel, and territories now occupied by Israel, for centuries. The name “Palestinian” is an invented name, but the people that name represents have been there for a long, long time. Longer than Americans have been in what is now called America.

  • Joshua Wooden

    @ Bill,

    Perhaps that’s true that Palestinians “will never settle for less than complete ownership and control of those areas,” but it sounds like your using that as to justify not giving them anything at all. If Israel gives them something, then they are justified in not giving them everything. If they give them nothing, then the blame will continue to be placed on Israel, as the dominating, unfair power over an oppressed people-group. This is politics – compromises have to be made.

  • Andy H

    What we’re really dealing with here is an invented history – specifically, the attempt to suggest that the Palestinians are relatively recent arrivals in the Holy Land, with the attendant implication that for much of the past 2,000 years the Land was largely empty. The political necessity for such a ‘history’ is obvious and we’ve seen it before. The Afrikaaners used to claim that South Africa was mainly uninhabited before they arrived, and even in Ireland Ian Paisley claimed (admittedly many years ago, at the height of the Troubles) that the fertile lands of Ulster occupied by Protestant planters in the 17th century had previously been unoccupied. In every case the idea is to write a people out of history, in order to justify ethnic cleansing, dispossession or whatever.

    But as is clear to anyone who takes the trouble to look at the evidence, the Holy Land has not been uninhabited for the past 2,000 years – quite the opposite, in fact. So who lived there? Again, there is only one reasonable answer – it was the ancestors of the very people that many Zionists and their supporters are trying to airbrush out of history. There simply are no other candidates.

    And modern genetic studies go further (though admittedly we are still in the early days of such research). Analysis of Palestinian DNA suggests two things: Firstly, they are NOT Arabs, in a genetic sense, although clearly they have acquired Arabic language and culture. Secondly, they are genetically quite close (uncomfortably close, no doubt, for many people) to Jews. The picture that is emerging is of an indigenous population that clearly predates the Arab conquest of the 7th century, and most likely was already present before the Jewish dispersals of the 1st and 2nd centuries. Ultimately, the origins of the Palestinians has to be sought in indigenous Canaanites, Samaritans and, of course, in the Jews themselves.

    So much for an invented people!

  • DLS

    “If Israel gives them something, then they are justified in not giving them everything.

    - You state this as though Israel hasn’t ‘given’ anything to date. They have ‘given’ plenty over the decades, and the response is usually a break in attacks on them for mere days or weeks.

  • Steve Sherwood

    Given them the right to have their property confiscated without compensation. Given them something less than even second class citizenship. Given them life in a perpetual refugee camp existence. Why aren’t the Palestinians more thankful?

    The history of brutality and injustice against the Jewish people for centuries is horrible. It doesn’t, though, justify them doing whatever they please to the people who owned property and homes on the land they were “given” by the U.N.. I in no way would want to advocate Palestinian violence and terrorism, but it is very difficult to conclude that they have been very shabbily treated for a long, long time.

  • Steve Sherwood

    difficult to “not” conclude…

  • Joshua Wooden

    DLS, apart from conceding Sinai back to Egypt, what has Israel given? The occupied territories weren’t given at all – that’s why they’re called “Occupied Territories” – they still belong to Israel.

  • DLS

    Joshua, you’re unaware of the concessions that Israel has made over the last 2 decades?

  • Andy H

    We’re straying a bit away from Newt Gingrich’s idiotic remark about the Palestinians at this point, but on the subject of ‘concessions’ I would say this: We had similar endless arguments in the Northern Irish peace process, over who had or hadn’t made concessions. What became clear from this was that the only concessions that matter are the concessions that matter. We can all play games, listing off the concessions we have made and ignoring the fact that these are of little or no significance. But this gets us nowhere. So there’s really not much point arguing about the ‘concessions’ Israel has (or has not) made, as long as she hasn’t made concessions on the issues that really matter. We all know what these are – borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements etc – and until these are addressed in a meaningful way, other ‘concessions’ are just an irrelevant sideshow.

  • fish

    The real question is why I, a taxpayer, am forced to contribute to subsidizing Israel with 2 or 3 billion dollars a year in direct payments. In a time of record-breaking deficits.

    Yet I have never heard a budget hawk discuss cutting aid to Israel. The citizens of Israel seem to be more important to conservatives than citizens of the U.S.

    We are more eager to cut aid to our own poor than we are to cut aid to a foreign country, a country that seems be always putting us at the risk of war.

    Imagine how much health care or food those billions of dollars would buy for the least of these in our country.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    fish, shame on you. You know that Israel is more important to the Repubs than the American poor.

    I wish the conservatives would think about the deal that we have by being a citizen in this country and what obligation that puts out for us. Certainly we do not want Israel to get blown off the face of the map, but why can’t we just insist that they have a nice piece of land there and that is all. All.


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