Sunday, December 11, 2011

Newt Gingrich: Demagogue, Pseudointellectual

Updated December 12
Newt Gingrich says the Palestinian people were invented. That’s very funny coming from a man who has reinvented himself a few times in his life. We didn’t need more evidence of Gingrich’s status as a rank demagogue and pseudointellectual, but he’s furnished it anyway.

Gingrich, in his typically arrogant manner, says this:
And I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places.
By “chance to go many places” he means that while being expelled from their homes by Zionist/Israeli forces in 1947-48, they were free to relocate in any Arab country they chose. If I were to mimic Gingrich’s style, I’d say that’s a pro-FOUND-ly racist statement. Since these people are generic Arabs, why should it matter that someone else decides that they may no longer remain in Palestine where they and their families have lived and worked for a thousand or more years? (In the early twentieth century, incidentally, leading Zionist activists and scholars thought the Palestinians Arabs were descendants of the ancient Hebrews.)

We could as easily say:
And I think that we've had an invented Pennsylvanian people, who are in fact Americans, and were historically part of the American community. And they had a chance to go many places.
Even if we concede, contrary to the evidence, that Palestinian consciousness is a rather late development, so what? It would not be the first time that oppression of a group of people has forged group consciousness. Indeed, Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, was an assimilated Jew in Austria until the trial of Alfred Dreyfus in France. Herzl’s response to that spectacle was to say, in effect: It’s the anti-Semites who make us Jews.

In other words, Gingrich makes no sense when he suggests, as he did at the December 10 debate, that since the Arabs of Palestine didn't call themselves Palestinians until the 1970s, their uprooting from the land was perfectly okay. How does that follow?

On the particular historical question of Palestinian consciousness, Wikipedia is instructive. Also see Jeremy Sapienza's blog post on the subject. And here's something Gingrich might want to ponder: the dialect known as Palestinian Arabic. The invented people have their own language!

Here's what the Encyclopedia Brittanica has to say:
Although the Arabs of Palestine had been creating and developing a Palestinian identity for about 200 years, the idea that Palestinians form a distinct people is relatively recent. The Arabs living in Palestine had never had a separate state. Until the establishment of Israel, the term Palestinian was used by Jews and foreigners to describe the inhabitants of Palestine and had only begun to be used by the Arabs themselves at the turn of the 20th century; at the same time, most saw themselves as part of the larger Arab or Muslim community. The Arabs of Palestine began widely using the term Palestinian starting in the pre-World War I period to indicate the nationalist concept of a Palestinian people. But after 1948—and even more so after 1967—for Palestinians themselves the term came to signify not only a place of origin but, more importantly, a sense of a shared past and future in the form of a Palestinian state. [Emphasis added.]
Not to pile on, but in 1921 -- more than 50 years before the Palestinian people were supposedly invented -- something called the Syrian-Palestinian Congress met "to influence the terms of the proposed League of Nations mandate over the region." The word Palestine (or a form of it) goes back to ancient times.

As the Washington Post's fact-checker put it:
But Gingrich’s claim that “Palestinian” did not become a common term until 1977 is bizarre. The very [1921] League of Nations mandate that he mentions was called “The British Mandate for Palestine.” The text of the declaration mentions the word “Palestine” 45 times and “Palestinian” twice.
Speaking of inventing people, Gingrich might pick up Shlomo Sand’s excellent book, The Invention of the Jewish People. Sand, a professor history at Tel Aviv University, shows that most national groups were essentially invented.

See Richard Silverstein's excellent commentary.

Here’s the video of Gingrich’s balderdash.

Those who think Palestine was a “land without a people” before Israel, should watch this video.


Kevin Carson said...

As always, Gingrich's intellect is galaxy-wide and a nanometer deep.

So it's some sort of little-known clincher that Palestinians are Arabs? I guess that means there's no Egyptian or Iraqi people.

And there's never been a Gypsy nation, so I guess the Romany aren't a real ethnic group.

In any case, national identities can be based on things that strike outsiders as rather flimsy. Serbo-Croatian is one language spoken between two sets of people: Catholics who write it in the Roman alphabet, and Orthodox who write it in the Cyrillic alphabet. So the Balkan war -- in a largely secular culture -- was essentially between clusters of Southern Slavs who stayed home from two different churches every Sunday.

How about Ukrainians? Ukrainian, Byelorussian and Russian are essentially two dialects of a single Eastern Slavic language. Southern Russian dialects sound closer to Ukrainian than to the speech of Moscow -- a lot like Yorkshire dialect and Lowland Scots. And shit, Kiev was the original capital of greater Russia. Besides which there's a shotgun scatter of Russian and Ukrainian settler villages all across Siberia. But they call themselves a separate ethnic group, and are recognized as one.

Hidden Author said...

Yes all peoples are essentially invented. But in the case of the Palestinians, we can, by pointing that they too are invented, focus on another question: Why were they invented?

If they were invented to consolidate a pre-existing community, then the current Peace Process with its basis in putting the Israelis on one side of (a modified) Green Line and putting the Palestinians on the other side of the Green Line can still work out. After all, such separation would further consolidate Palestine finishing the task of inventing that nation-state.

On the other hand, if the Palestinian nation was invented to replace Israel, then negotiations based on putting the Israelis on one side of the Green Line and the Palestinians on another side of the Green Line will never work because they miss the whole point of the conflict.

Either way, it is important to acknowledge the invention of the Palestinian nation, even if other nations are invented, because then people can ask why Palestine was invented and if people can answer that, they can better judge the validity of the current Peace Process (a very important political event in the 21st Century, after all!).