Newt In The News
Published on: December 10, 2011
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  • I’d count Newt as rather more than half right on this one. Of course there was no Palestinian “state” under the Ottomomans, but there certainly was a strong sense among the near-Coastal Arabs than they were far more housebroken than the semi-savages (as they saw it) in what we now call “Jordan”–a strong sense of plugged-in, almost-Westernized identity.

    But this: “In this country the gaffes of conservatives are dissected, picked over and spotlighted by a vindictive media that for the most part deeply hates and fears the right wing. Liberal gaffes get a lighter treatment…” Walter, that is gobsmackingly loony. One could ask “what keeps Fox in business?” But it is more than just Fox–once Murdoch/Ailes sets the agenda, the “liberal” (again as defined by Murdoch/Ailes) media feels bound to follow.

  • John Burke

    Well said, Mead. This is exactly what Newt’s critics don’t like about him. He thinks he’s smarter and more knowledgable than he is and shoots off his mouth without thinking.

    Palestinian is as much (or as little) a national identity as Syrian, Jordanian, Iraqi, Saudi, Kuwaiti or Yemeni. Indeed, it was not long ago that Egypt’s Nasser set out to unify the Arab community in a single nation and went so farvas to entice Syria into a union with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic (I have a map to prove it!). All things considered, Israelis should be pleased that Nasser’s project failed.

    It also strikes me as ironic that al Quaeda would agree with Newt that modern Palestine was merely a province in the pan-Muslim empire ruled by the Ottomon Sultan who was importantly also the Caliph.

  • nadine

    Newt Gingrich just committed a classic “Kinsley gaffe”: he told an impolitic truth.

    The truth is that the Palestinians started to think of themselves as a nation only after they came under one government, which was Israel’s, in 1967. That was also when they were allowed to found their universities, Bir Zeit and the other factories of incitement. Jordan had never permitted it on the West Bank, and Egypt ruled Gaza under martial law. Certainly, nobody was permitted to say one word about the creation of an Arab state called Palestine while Jordan and Egypt ruled the West Bank and Gaza.

    The Palestinians were “created” by the deliberate mistreatment they suffered at the hands of their fellow Arabs, who (except for Jordan) refused to let any of the 1948 Arab refugees from Palestine resettle in their countries or become citizens, preferring to keep them penned in squalid refugee camps on the UN dole forever, as grist for the mill.

    Furthermore, a quick glance at contemporary documents from 1948 will show you that the only people called “Palestinians” back then were the Zionists, who were the ones trying to make a country out of the Mandate of Palestine. The object of the Arabs was to prevent this; had they succeeded, the Mandate would have been divided among the victors, which is what in fact happened to those parts of the Mandate held by the Arab armies at the end of the war.

    As a historian and scholar you should assert the historical truth in the face of the lying “narrative” promulgated by the Palestinians as part of their war against Israel. The truth is that the Palestinians are a nation now, but have only been one since the 1960s, or if you want to be generous, since 1948. Before that, they were Arabs of the Levant, who identified themselves by town, confession and tribe, just like the Arabs of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia in neighboring lands.

    I am sure that you understand, Mr. Mead, that the map of the Holy Land whose image you posted is a Western artifact, made by European Christians for European Christians, and does not document the existence of any Ottoman political entity called “Palestine.” But since many, if not most, of your readers do not understand this point, I wish you would clarify it.

  • Corlyss

    “When it comes to the Palestinians, the Newtster isn’t all wrong.”

    Right. Palestinians are about as authentic as Blefuscurs are. They’re just a bunch of whiny single-issue puppets who owe their existence and their political influence to Arab petro-states. The latter’s only use for the sorry flotsam is to bludgeon the spineless and gullible Europeans into pretending it has political rights to call themselves a people and a state.

  • Anthony

    “…The statement indicated a shallow view of modern history as well as a failure to grasp the nature of the conflict…we need a discussion about the ways in which the international system is perpetrating rather than solving the Palestinian refugee problem and about ways in which complex cultural cross currents within the Palestinian sense of identity make it difficult for any Palestinian leader to make peace – or for the Israelis to trust them” frames Newt in the news for me. That aside, “we all misspeak from time to time” (mind moving more quickly than mouth verbalizing idea/thought).

  • joe

    “To question the authenticity of that identity is as pointless as it is provocative; the statement indicates a shallow view of modern history as well as a failure to grasp the nature of the conflict.”

    No, it’s not facile or sophistic to remind the world-at-large that your historical nation is, in fact, a political invention of new standing. Prior to ’48, the arabs of Palestina were just refugees of a Sunni confession and Arab ethnicity, graced with a latinized name by British bureaucrats.

    It’s commonly termed as not buying into the meme; the Georgians have a great saying: ” A Tartar said to another Tartar: if you will call me ‘Aga,’ I will call you ‘Aga’.” Same reasoning applies one thinks. The underlying facts of historical origin, religious confession and social identification don’t change by the substitution of a signifier.

    Another thing: “Most Germans did not think that all “Germans” should live in one country under one ruler in 1800; by 1850 most though not all had come to see things differently.” That is flatly wrong. The 1867 and 1871 wars created a groundswell of favorable opinion for the Prussian Empire and the second Reich, ’cause it won. The period between 1800 to 1850 was a series of reactions by the German people to issues outside their control: the Treaty of Tilsit, the Burschenschaften movement, the Zollverein, and the Frankfurt Parliament.

    You have heard of the ‘gross Deutschland’ and the ‘kleines Deutschland’ arguments? In 1850, there was not even an established opinion on who was German–the Czechs sent a delegation to Frankfurt in 1848!

  • WigWag

    The idea that Gingrich’s pandering on this issue is qualitatively different than all the other pandering that takes place in a presidential campaign is just silly. Whether it’s the need to subsidize ethanol or the decision to delay a decision on the pipeline from Alberta to Texas, pandering to voters is just what politicians do; if you don’t like it, you don’t like democracy.

    The Speaker’s comments should go over very well with the evangelical voters who show up in droves to vote in Iowa’s Republican primary. No less an authority than Professor Mead has told us that those voters love Israel and politicians who are unhesitating in their support of Israel because the existence of the Jewish State offers unequivocal evidence that the God of Abraham still rules in the 21st century.

    From Gingrich’s perspective why should he care when pundits like Mead criticize him for a lack of nuance.

    Unlike Mead, Gingrich needs to do more than bloviate; he actually needs to secure votes, especially in Iowa. The comments the former Speaker made should help him in that regard. Politicians have said far more outrageous things than Gingrich said in order to secure votes. Instead of criticizing him, Mead should be congratulating Newt on his wisdom.

    I would be very curious to know whether Professor Mead agrees with Gingrich that Netanyahu is a far superior foreign policy strategist than President Obama. As recently as May 11, 2011, Professor Mead regaled us with a post describing how Netanyahu had beaten President Obama as if Obama was a “red-headed step child.”

    It seems to me that Professor Mead and Speaker Gingrich probably agree about that.

  • nadine

    Newt Gingrich was asked about his calling the Palestinians “an invented people” in tonight’s GOP debate, and he did not back down, saying that it is important to fight “the propaganda war” by telling the historical truth. Bull’s eye!

    Mr. Mead, you don’t make peace by telling polite lies like this one, “Palestinians freely acknowledge this and Palestinian historians write about the modern emergence of a specifically Palestinian identity.”

    As a generality, this is false. As a political body, the Palestinians claim that they, and only they, are the Canaanites, the original inhabitants of the land. As a political body, the Palestinians claim that Jewish history doesn’t exist and Jews have no rights to an inch of Palestine. This is their “narrative” and it is a lie.

    While I’m sure there are many nice sophisticated Palestinian historians in the Western world who speak in more nuanced terms, they don’t change this basic fact of the modern political world. The Palestinians, with the help of much of the modern Left, are waging a propaganda war whose object is the delegitimization and destruction of the State of Israel.

    We can’t win the propaganda war unless we fight it, and we can’t fight it if we refuse to notice it. The Palestinians did not invent themselves as a people to facilitate a rational solution to the plight of the Palestinian refugees; on the contrary, they invented themselves as a people to make it impossible that there should be any solution to the plight of the Palestinian refugees short of the destruction of the State of Israel.

  • Anthony

    An observation: where the general voting public goes wrong is in whom it accepts as plausible candidates – not men of proven knowledge, ability and purpose but men who appeal to various unexamined prejudices (ethnic, religious, personal, etc.) The politician uses rhetoric to flatter and seduce his public and to carry the moment against the man of knowledge and sound judgment (democracy in action).

    Rightly or wrongly, the electorate has been more responsive to blandishment than to reason. Language in routine American politics is not used to inform or to analyze problems but to manipulate emotions and to obfuscate. Democracy implies both responsibility and obligation as sentinels to pandering.

  • Kris

    [email protected], I’ll forgive you this one time, but in the future, please refrain from stealing my comments. [/hum]

    By the way, the map shows how “Palestine” (on both sides of the Jordan River) was divided among the ~12 Tribes. The Palestinian Tribe of Judah, the Palestinian Tribe of Benjamin, …

  • Kris

    By the way, I am reminded of a certain US President delivering a Cairo University on June 4th, 2009. This was a major speech, in which the US President was coming to the (arguable) heart of Islam, calling for “a new beginning” in relations between the Islamic world and the United States and trying to promote peace.

    And in this truly important speech, said US President stated that “the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted” in Jewish persecution, particularly in the Holocaust. And here I thought that said aspiration had something to do with the above map…

  • Anthony

    WRM, Nwet In The News bring to mind: “The system of popular elections, moreover, was not one devised by the perspicacious Founding Fathers but represented a later dubious embroidery on the basic constitutional system…
    The Fathers, often hymned, had no confidence in a universal francise that would elevate poor boys in urgent and continual need of funds to high office, there to be readily tempted and seduced and to acquire personal interests of their own that ran against those of the populace…In giving them electoral democracy, history played a dirty trick on the American people…In getting electoral democracy, the American people had figuratively thrust upon them a political version of a Stradivarius violin…For democracy is something that belongs to the psyche, to group interaction, not to outward forms…True democracy, of course can be learned but under carefully controlled favorable conditions….”

    WRM, a question for me is not whether our democratic system is a consequence of politics engendering a particular type (though that may be the case) but whether our general inattentiveness and imperceptiveness as an electorate provides public office to careerist – freedom implies choice, participation implies responsibility and both are weighty loads in a democracy.

  • Micha

    “From Gingrich’s perspective why should he care when pundits like Mead criticize him for a lack of nuance.

    Unlike Mead, Gingrich needs to do more than bloviate; he actually needs to secure votes, especially in Iowa. The comments the former Speaker made should help him in that regard. Politicians have said far more outrageous things than Gingrich said in order to secure votes. Instead of criticizing him, Mead should be congratulating Newt on his wisdom.”

    I should think aspiring presidents have a responsibility for more then just securing votes. Adding more fuel to the game in which (many) Palestinians and (some) Israelis deny each other’s existence is not just stupid, it is harmful, to Israel and to the US.

  • ari

    On this one I think you are off. Gingrich not only was right but was brave and bold to speak the truth to the world that is living in peace fantasyland. He did not say that Pal. nationalism was not real, but that the Pal. nation is new and invented – that their real identity is an Arab one. Zionism is a modern invention but the Jewish nation is the most ancient one and Zionism is built on this Jewish nation’s identity. Pal. nat. is built on Muslim and Arab identity, not a Pal. national one.

  • Richard F. Miller

    “We all misspeak from time to time, and some of us are unlucky enough to do that when the cameras are recording. But presidents have to do better….”

    You’re right, WRM. Presidents have to do better. But not candidates. They have to do even better than better.

    It’s wise to remember that few Palestinians will vote in the Republican primary; likewise, that few of your CFR colleagues will be voting Republican, or if so, voting for Newt.

    In the context of this Republican primary, Newt’s comment was less of a bomb than well-aimed shot: part of Romney’s problem with the Republican base is his perceived lack of conservative authenticity. Newt loses little and gains much by first, articulating a position that many conservatives believe but which, in “polite” circles, dares not speak its name; second, by being attacked by the likes of Erekat, Ashrawi or Abbas.

    If Newt is elected, he always can buy the goodwill of Wilson Center types by dangling their federal funding; and if there’s one group of people who, depending upon the audience, understand how to take opposite stands on the same issue, it’s the Palestinians.

    Based on the negative reaction, Newt scored big here.

  • Chase Crucil

    Hey Professor, are you angling for a job on Fox News or something like that? I cannot believe you would say that conservatives are criticized more stringently than liberals. The reality is more complicated. While it is true that the press seems to favor Obama – and as a Hillary Clinton supporter in 08, this made me very mad at the time – the press was very anti Bill Clinton and it clearly favored Bush over Gore.

    In election 2000, we heard over and over again how Bush was “the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with,” and Gore’s “stiffness” was mentioned all the time as well. Additionally, when Al Gore said that he “invented the internet” he meant that he helped push through funding for the Pentagon program that gave rise to the internet. (Newt Gingrich even gave him credit for this!) Yet, the press cut him absolutely no slack on this issue. Gore deserved to be mocked for what he said. My purpose in mentioning this bit of media history is to question the idea that the press is always biased against the GOP.

    Furthermore, during the Clinton administration, a respected career republican prosecutor was removed by a gaggle of Jesse Helms proteges on the D.C. Circuit. If you don’t believe me, look up Judge David Sentelle online. He was replaced by Ken Starr, who while smart was and is obviously a committed religious right conservative. The court’s rationale was that the previous prosecutor, Robert B. Fiske, was potentially biased because he was appointed by Janet Reno. While this concern is understandable, the glaring fact is that the court replaced someone who was potentially biased with one who definitely was. YET THE SUPPOSEDLY LIBERAL PRESS NEVER BROUGHT THIS TO THE ATTENTION OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. The only reason I know about this stuff is because I am a hard core political nerd.

    During the beginning of the Iraq war, the media totally supported it, and I did not. Needless to say, the pro war side got much better coverage, even on MSNBC.

    In conclusion, while it think it’s true that the media is often biased, the bias has more to do with who they like than simply just favoring the Democrats over the Republicans. The evidence I’ve provided comes from the Clinton/Gore years, and it is possibility that things have changed this time around, but I think it was pretty clear that a good portion of the mainstream media did Bill Clinton no favors in the 90s. Indeed, it seems that they still don’t like the Clintons that much, e.g., an MSNBC reporter said that the Bill and Hillary were “pimping out” Chelsea Clinton during the primaries in 08.

  • David

    ) There never was a Palestinian state or a Palestinian nation. There are no Palestinian people, per se. Rather, these are Arabs living in a region that historically has been called many things, including “Palestine.”

    2) Israel did not go to war against a Palestinian state and occupy its land. Rather, Israel was attacked by six Arab countries at once. She defended herself, defeated her attackers, and won the so-called territories, not from the Palestinians, but from Jordan and Egypt.

    3) Jerusalem was never the capital of any state but Israel. It was certainly never the capital of a country that never existed. Why should the Palestinians get any part of it? Because they want it? Because they have terrorists?

    4) Jerusalem, under the current Israeli control, is a free and open city. Israel, as a democracy, guarantees freedom of religion within its borders. Contrast this fact with areas that have come under Palestinian occupation. What percentage of Christians have left in recent years because they cannot stand the harassment and persecution?

    5) Most Arabs living in Palestine today are not indigenous to the region. It was not until after the Jews had changed deserts and swamps into a productive and thriving land that the Arabs started migrating there. Arafat himself was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt.

  • Charles R. Williams

    Gingrich is not as wrong as you assert. But a statesman has to understand how to handle truths – especially truths that are inflammatory and when handled by leaders the wrong way can obstruct the resolution of issues. Myths like Palestinian nationhood can become realer even than historical facts as the experience of central and eastern Europe so amply demonstates.

    We need to ask ourselves why outstanding Republican leaders: Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels and Paul Ryan, will have nothing to do with a presidential campaign against an opponent as weak, incompetent, unpopular and dangerous to this country’s future as Barack Obama. Why is the race dominated by charlatans, hucksters and mediocrities?

  • Micha

    Israel will not win the propaganda war by denying Palestinian identity. That way only creates an image of two equally petty sides bickering.

    Israel can win the propaganda war first by asserting its own identity and then by asserting that in this conflict there is one sides that denies, rejects and erases history and another side which is confident enough in its own undeniable identity and ancient history not to deny others.

    Arab nationalism is no more real than Palestinian. They are both modern phenomenons. Jewish national identity is not real but it is much older. But Zionism is also a modern phenomenon.

  • Anthony

    Correction @12: Newt In The News brings….

  • Keith McLennan

    “perpetrating rather than solving the Palestinian refugee problem”

    perpetuating?

  • Yackums

    Micha, I’m curious as to what exactly you consider the criteria for a national identity, given your assertion that “Jewish national identity is not real.” The Jewish people are all (save converts) descended from a single family. They share a common language, a common religion, and a common land (as throughout their entire history, whenever they did not directly inhabit the Land of Israel they did regard themselves as in exile from that land, as opposed to any other). Everything about their religion is built on the basis of Jewish nationhood and Jewish presence in the Land of Israel.

    What more do you want?

  • Steve Klein

    Widely quoted over the weekend is this from PLO executive committee member Zahir Muhsein in1977:

    “The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism.

    “For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.”

    Are there any peoples in modern history that made themselves into a new nationality for the express purpose of destroying another people?

  • Jbird

    While there are good reasons to support the state of Israel as an ally, most American support is driven by eschatology (misguided eschatology in my opinion).

  • Richard S

    Jefferson disagreed with Professor Mead’s premise. Recall his famous “Adam and Eve” letter, which reads “rather than it should have failed I would have seen half the earth desolated. were there but an Adam & Eve left in every country, & left free, it would be better than as it now is.”
    http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/190.html
    Note the “in every country” bit.
    That’s why Jefferson, unlike Hamilton and Adams, and others, thought it was an open question whether the U.S. had to follow the Franco-American treaty of 1778 after the French Revolution. As Aristotle noted long ago, after revolutions, the status of treaties is open to question. Revolutions, from this perspective, often change nations at the core of their being–they change what they are. The Federalists followed that line.
    But Jefferson was on the other side on this one. It’s worth noting that there is dversity of opinion here. The problem of what is a naiton is a tough one. President Wilson punted on it when discussing the League of Nations, if memory serves.

    Today the Palestinians think of themselves as a people. Noting that the newness of that belief may be useful, as it might weaken the strength of the rhetoric that supports them outside the Midde East. Or perhaps it will make negotiations more difficult. That seems to me to be a tougher question than Professor Mead allows.

  • Toni

    Prof. Mead, thank you for taking a Republican candidate seriously enough to assess his geopolitical understanding. (I do wonder whether you scrutinized any of candidate Obama’s foreign policy statements as closely.)

    As for misspeaking, I know I wouldn’t last five minutes as a candidate for dog-catcher. I’d say something wrong-headed, and what I meant wouldn’t matter. The media would fry me.

    Candidate Gingrich is also communicating with a general audience not nearly so well informed as you. He necessarily has to speak in shorthand.

  • Toni

    For you who think the media are evenhanded in their treatment of Democrats and Republicans:

    Compare media treatment of Bill Clinton’s serial, and serious, sexual depredations to its treatment of Anita Hill’s evidence-free allegations against Clarence Thomas. Newsweek tried to kill the story of Monica’s blue dress; Matt Drudge made it public. Who broke the story of John Edwards’s infidelity? The National Enquirer!

    The media most certainly did not dwell on Gore’s shortcomings. Chase, I defy you to find such stories.

    Roger Ailes’s genius at Fox News has been simply to report what the hugely Democratic media declines to. In 2008, as the Dem-media machine geared up in ecstasy for Obama, I saw Fox News move right. E.g., an opinion show that had been Hannity and Colmes (the latter representing the Dem perspective) became only Hannity. That was a smart business move as well as a service to its viewers. Fox asks questions that other media don’t think of asking and reports stories others don’t think are important, like Van Jones and ACORN.

    If Fox News seems to drive other news coverage now, it’s because FNC has done a good journalistic job. If viewers didn’t care about the stories, other media wouldn’t have to follow. Roger Ailes doesn’t give his competitors a choice.

  • Micha

    “Micha, I’m curious as to what exactly you consider the criteria for a national identity”

    The important thing to remember is that collective identities like nationality are not objective in the sense that say a rock or a prime numbers objective, they are the result of the beliefs of groups of humans. Coming up with an “objective” formula for what makes a people real or not a good thing in my opinion. Another thing to keep in mind is that national identity only started playing a major political role in the modern era. That’s when we start seeing national movements.

    So Judaism and Palestinian nationalism are both real in the same sense — they are shared collective identities. Judaism is just much older. It’s strength has been tested over time.

    Despite the fact that religious Jews believe that Jews sprang from one ancient ancestor, and despite the fact (apparently) that Jews from different places seem to share common DNA, I don’t think any of us want Judaism to be defined in biological terms. Being Jewish is a cultural identity. It is defined by a shared culture, history, language (partially), belief (partially) and sense of shared identity.

    I should clarify that I’m not supporting here the claim made by Palestinians which is the mirror image of Gingrich’s claim — that Jews are not a nation but a religion. That’s an absurd claim. Jews are a nation, no doubt. I just don’t feel the need to deny Palestinian national identity in order to assert my own Jewish identity.

    I am aware that the Palestinian identity is newer, was developed partially for cynical reasons and that it doesn’t seem very strong at times. But that’s their issues to figure out.

  • gazzer

    One of the better comment sections I’ve seen!!
    Clearly Gingrich knows what he is saying, he is resonating with voters and he is not only running rings around the biased press that [messes with] conservatives with their lies and bias, but he also taps into the public weariness with a cautious republican party that can endorse his opponents without effect. It’s going to be a wild ride

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