Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gingrich and Palestine

Newt Gingrich's recent claims about Palestine make me wonder if he ever learned anything about historical processes when he got his PhD. All peoples and nations are invented. This is true most of all of the Israelis whose existence is a lot more recent than the idea of a distinct Palestinian identity. No collective identity has come into existence naturally as a fully formed ethnic or national group, not even the Jews. They are all inventions.

His rehashing of Golda Meyerson's claim that the Palestinians did not exist as a separate people in 1948 ignores the fact that nations and states are two different things. There was no Israeli state before 1948 either. Indeed a much better argument could be made that there was not an Israeli nation before 1948 then the claim that there were not a Palestinian nation. Being under Ottoman rule from 1516 to 1918 does not negate the development of Palestinian nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries during the same time that nationalism developed in most of Europe including Jewish nationalism. One might as well claim there is no such thing as a  Czech nation because they were under Austrian rule until after World War One. 

It is a bit late in the day for Israel's supporters to be attempting to erase the native population of Palestine from popular discourse. There is a collective national entity whose members call themselves Palestinians. They are the people who were living in the territory that became the British Mandate of Palestine when the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Their continual presence in this territory predates that first Jewish Aliyah from Europe to Palestine by many centuries. As such their moral claims to the land are far stronger than the European colonists that started settling in the territory in the 1880s, much later than the settlement of South Africa, North America or even Australia. 


Merv said...

Thank you for this historical background. I have struggled for a long time to develop an informed and reasoned approach to the "Palestinian" question. Mostly, I have become numb to the Israeli situation because I see such ignorance (lack of willingness to compromise) on both sides.

Leo Tolstoy said...

The "they weren't a nation" argument is the same one used to justify genocide against the native Americans. There's no sincerity in it; Gingrich knows full well it's nonsense.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Walt: Gingrich upsets me for a number of reasons. But, if he is going to be a complete idiot I would appreciate if he stopped waving his history PhD around. It is true that a lot of academics are idiots, but you don't have to go out of your way to be the biggest idiot.

Merv: You are welcome. Did you know that the Mennonites in Canada were among the first people to provide assistance to the Palestinian expellees in 1948?

LFC said...

I have no time at all for Gingrich, but it's perhaps a bit late in the day to start weighing competing moral claims to the territory in the sense that Israel's existence is a fact and so is the existence of an entity that one hopes will become a Palestinian state. It's also rather unfair to tar all "supporters of Israel" (a rather broad, fuzzy category) with Gingrich's idiocies.

As for Gingrich's PhD, see Robert Paul Wolff's post on Gingrich's dissertation. ( Or Adam Hochschild's NYT op-ed on the same subject.

J. Otto Pohl said...


Apartheid South Africa's existence, Nazi Germany's existence, and the USSR's existence were also all established facts. The continued existence of the state of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state, however, is not a guaranteed fact. The idea of creating a Palestinian Bantustan which can preserve a Jewish majority racist state in over three quarters of historic Palestine is one that most "liberals" support. But, it isn't really any different in its key aspects than Gingrich's racist vision.