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Worse Than Gingrich's 'Invented People' Comment Was Quietness and Gullibility of Audience

By Daoud Kuttab

Ma'an, December 15, 2011


In September 1993, the prime minister of Israel at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, wrote to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat:

"In response to your letter of September 9, 1993, I wish to confirm to you that, in light of the PLO commitments included in your letter, the government of Israel has decided to recognise the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process."

The letter was proof of Israel and PLO mutual recognition, which ushered in the Oslo Accords signed on the White House lawn on Sept. 13, 1993.

The Palestinians sought and received recognition with many sacrifices. Negating or denying the existence of the Palestinian people after the government of the state of Israel recognized it shows how low some US presidential candidates have reached.

While Newt Gingrichís comments to a Jewish media outlet that Palestinians are an invented people was pretty bad, even worse was what happened (or didnít) afterward.

The statement made on the eve of the pre-Iowa Republican primaries brought immediate response from Palestinians. PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi questioned whether someone making such a statement has what it takes to become the president of the United States of America. Other Palestinian officials correctly identified the statement as green light to Israelis to carry out ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

When ABCís George Stephanopoulos asked Republican nominees during the Las Vegas debate to comment on the statement, no one dealt directly with it. Republicans seeking the office of the presidency were tripping over each other to show more support for Israel. No one even tried to acknowledge the existence of Palestinians.

Perhaps the least damaging statement came from congressman Ron Paul who quipped that if Palestinians were invented so was Israel. Everyone else reiterated their total, unequivocal and non-negotiable support for Americaís "ally" Israel. If they had a problem with the statement, it was that it might not have been very diplomatic.

Mitt Romney, the other leading Republican contender who wants to move the US embassy immediately to Jerusalem the day he becomes president, said that he would have "contacted" the Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu before making such a controversial statement. Others agreed about the tactic, but none dealt with the substance.

When time came for Gingrich, he not only stood by his statement, but added more. Stereotyping an entire nation, he called Palestinians "terrorists" and claimed wrongly that Palestinian textbooks teach hatred of Jews. He also claimed, wrongly, that the US government funds the printing of what he claimed to be hate-filled books.

While Israeli and US officials were quiet on the subject, and major American politicians, historians and thinkers were nowhere to be heard, it took a self-proclaimed pro-Israel American Jewish writer to burst the bubble.

Writing in The New York Times, Thomas Friedman denounced this hypocritical love fest for the Jewish votes saying that this "competition" to grovel for Jewish votes - by outloving Israel - takes Republicans "to a new low." He called such action "loving Israel to death - literally."

Friedman explains that if Palestinians were not a nation, then the US nominee is either supporting an apartheid system, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, or laying the foundation for a binational state, asking: Is this being pro-Israel?

Speaking in front of Republican voters, the statements made by Gingrich and the other nominees brought warm applause from the audience.

While one may label Republican nominee statements as political pandering paid for by AIPAC lobbyists, the applause by a totally gullible and easily swayed American voting crowd is probably the scariest part of this sad incident.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and former professor of journalism at Princeton University.




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