Sunday, December 11, 2011

Newt and the Israelis

There's been a predictable uproar on the left about Newt Gingrich's statement that there's no such thing as a Palestinian. The problem is, to a certain extent, he's right.

See, here's the thing. We're Americans. In America, nationality is what nation you live in. But it is only here in America that lines on a map determine nationality. In most of the world, people identify their nationality by language, culture, and ethnicity. If you speak German, are culturally German, and are descended from Germans, you are German whether you live in Poland, the Czech Republic, or in Germany proper. Your forefathers can have lived on a plot of land in the Czech Republic for 100 years, you can be the 3rd generation born in the Czech Republic, and you are still German as far as everybody in Germany and the Czech Republic are concerned. Similarly if you speak Mandarin, are ethnically Han Chinese, and are culturally Chinese, then you are Chinese whether you live in China, Vietnam, or Indonesia. That is, the nation you live in doesn't define your nationality in most of the world, rather, your language, culture, and ethnicity does. And from that perspective, there isn't a Palestinian people -- there are merely Arabs, who speak the same language as all other Arabs, who have the same culture as all other Arabs, who are genetically identical to all other Arabs.

Now, back to Gingrich's statement. Gingrich was merely paraphrasing Israel PM Golda Meir's statements from the early 1970's. Golda Meir was one of the founders of the modern state of Israel and her statement was typical of the attitude of the founders of Israel. Remember, the founders of Israel were European. From their perspective, there was no such thing as a Palestinian people because there is no distinct Palestinian language, culture, and ethnicity. From their perspective there were Arabs who happened to be citizens of a pseudo-state called "Palestine" that did not exist prior to 1920, a pseudo-state set up by Britain as part of the division of the Ottoman province of Trans-Jordan at the fall of the Ottoman Empire, a pseudo-state populated by people who were no different culturally, ethnically, or genetically from any other Arab, who had a dozen other Arab states similarly created from thin air after the fall of the Ottoman Empire to go to. From their perspective, the "Palestinian Problem" was a problem caused by Arab rulers refusing to take in their Arab brothers as citizens, and had nothing to do with Israel.

From that perspective, what Gingrich said made sense. Gingrich's problem is that the facts on the ground are different than in 1973. Israel agreed to create a Palestinian nationality (which is still not a Palestinian people from their POV, just another fake nationality created by Europeans), and set up a Bantustan-style "Palestinian Authority" on the Gaza Strip and West Bank as part of their peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. In exchange Egypt and Jordan gave up their territorial claims on the Gaza Strip and West Bank and Yasser Arafat agreed to lead said Bantustan in exchange for stopping attacks on Israel. Gingrich's view is still held by the vast majority of Israelis, who do not view Palestinians as a people, just as a fake nationality created by Europeans as part of their division of the Arab people after WW1, but Israel is not living up to their half of the agreements that they agreed to, which do not allow "settlers" on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That, and not Gingrich's statements (which to a certain extent are factually true from the point of view of most of the world), are the real issue here.

Note that my explanation of what Israelis think does not mean that I condone or encourage such thinking. Long-term it's a recipe for utter disaster for reasons adequately explained elsewhere. I'm just telling you things you probably don't know because you won't hear them in the left-wing echo chamber -- indeed, that you're unlikely to hear anywhere outside of Israel, unless you are talking to actual Israelis.

-- Badtux the Reality-based Penguin


  1. Left-wing echo chamber?!?


  2. Yeppers, left-wing echo chamber. When it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, there decidedly *is* a left-wing echo chamber, where everybody pretty much believes the same thing and says the same thing about the situation and repeats it on other left-wing blogs and in left-wing publications. Go to any of the big-name left-wing sites like DKos, Firedoglake, etc., and you'll see what I mean.

    The actual situation is far more nuanced than simple "Israel bad, Palestinians good". Which doesn't do a damn bit of good for the Palestinians, who are still stuck in stateless hell with no real nation of their own, but you can't solve the problem unless you start talking reality and getting feedback from people on the ground (like, say, actual Israelis and Palestinians) rather than simply echoing the same thing over and over again in an echo chamber.

    - Badtux the Non-echoing Penguin

  3. It strikes me funny that no one seems to mention that, for all intents and purposes, Israel is a made up state as well. Israel did not exist until the 1947 UN decision to partition Palestine. All things being equal Palestine as an entity has existed longer that Israel.

  4. Oh, yes, Israel is a made-up state, but the Jewish people are not a made-up people, they've been around for a few thousand years and have a distinct language, culture, and ethnicity. See, that's where you're getting hung up here, you're confusing lines on the map with the people who live there. That's something that only happens here in America. If you're in, say, Afghanistan, another made-up nation, you're Pashtun or Hazara or Tajik and you may speak Pashto or Dari or Turkik (thus why Pakistan is scared to death that Pashtunistan might come into being, since their western part also is ethnically Pashtun), and those are peoples. The lines on the map that define the nation of Afghanistan, on the other hand, are just lines on a map -- from the viewpoint of locals, there are no such people as Afghanis.

    Israelis make the same observation. Prior to them ethnically cleansing the Arabs off "their" land, there were no people who called themselves Palestinians. Everybody locally spoke Arabic and called themselves Arab and had the same basically Arab culture as people in Egypt, Syria, or Jordan. Some lines on a map called "Palestine" had been invented by the British as part of their administration of the former Trans-Jordan province of the Ottoman Empire, but nobody called themselves Palestinian. There literally was no Palestinian people in the same sense there is a Jewish people. They were Arabs.

    Now: That doesn't mean that it's right to ethnically cleanse people off lands they've lived on for almost a thousand years without any sort of compensation for the lands you stole from them via terrorist acts, then treat them like dirt for the next sixty years to the point that I've had Israelis sneer to me that Palestinians are like cockroaches and should be exterminated like cockroaches. But from a strict ethnology point of view, as much as I hate to admit that *anything* said by a Republican is right, *Newt was right* -- the notion of a "Palestinian" is less than sixty years old. Before Israel inadvertently created them via their initial act of ethnic cleansing and the surrounding Arab states compounded the job by refusing to grant citizenship to the Arab refugees from Palestine, there was no such thing as a Palestinian people. And even today, it's arguable that the notion of a "Palestinian" is more of a political one invented by Yasser Arafat to gain power than one that's justified by any kind of examination of the history of the people who now call themselves "Palestinian", because before the ethnic cleansing, they considered themselves Arabs, not Palestinians, and all the supporting evidence is that this is still what they are, as a people -- Arabs who were ethnically cleansed off the land of the Palestinian Mandate by Jewish terrorist groups in order to create the State of Israel, no more a distinct people than Texans are here in the United States.

    - Badtux the Ethnology Penguin

  5. well, while I appreciate your clarity here, it's also true that the Newster was using this as a dog-whistle, so it is deserving of opprobrium.
    Under Meir's distinction, the US is also a created state, as are any whose citizenry is primarily from somewhere else. This is not what Newt or Golda meant, IMO

  6. Yogi, you're doing what I said Americans usually do -- confuse the people and the state. Lines on a map do not create a people anywhere but in the United States, where we're all "Americans" because *everybody* here (with slight exceptions) is from somewhere else with some other culture originally and we've invented our own culture and to certain extent our own language, even (don't believe me? Well, go open the bonnet of your lorrie and tell me the colour of what you see, then write the digit 'zed' for me).

    Palestinians are to Arabs what Texans are to Americans -- i.e., there's some slight cultural differences (watch "King of the Hill" for the scoop on that :) but nobody claims that Texans aren't Americans. So yeah, Newt the Lizard was dog-whistling anti-Arab racists, but he was factually correct in that there's not a Palestinian people, as such -- other than the one that has been created over the past 60 years due to shared hardship and discrimination against them, a people defined by bigotry against them, that is. Hmm, I wonder what other people have had that problem... :).

    - Badtux the Snarky Penguin

  7. The actual situation is far more nuanced than simple "Israel bad, Palestinians good".

    FWIW, the actual situation is even more nuanced than the idea that people base nationality on language, culture, an ethnicity. I mean, around 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs after all. Also many Jewish people, although they share a religion and some cultural similarities aren't really all that similar, ie they don't really share much in the way of language and culture.

    The thing of it is that when it comes who which group of people should be in charge, there probably aren't any solutions that are totally fair. And if you look closely at what Newt may have meant when he says that there are no Palestinians, you might find that he isn't pedantically giving a nod to the fact that there is no ethnically/linguistically group distinct from other Arabs. But is rather saying that Arabs (other than those already considered citizens by Israel) have no right to live in the area.

  8. Actually, Lynne, the Jewish population of Israel would eagerly engage in fresh ethnic cleansing against the Arab citizens of Israel, stripping them of their citizenship and expelling them, if there were ever a chance that Jews could become a minority in Israel. The fundamental founding charter of Israel is "Never Again" -- i.e., that never again shall Jews die as they did during the Holocaust for lack of a nation willing to take them in (Hitler was down with simply deporting all the Jews rather than exterminating them, but nobody would take Europe's unwanted Jews), and a non-Jewish majority in Israel would violate that fundamental founding charter. The Arab citizens of Israel are currently (somewhat) tolerated because they're a minority -- but as a minority, they're in much the same position as the Jews of Europe in 1933, i.e., only barely tolerated at best, actively hated at worst.

    That is the same reason the one-state solution is a non-starter. And if you complain that this is discrimination and bigotry, the average Israeli will just shrug and say, "when random strangers have spent 1800 years repeatedly trying to exterminate your family and friends, come back and talk to us again about discrimination and bigotry."

    - Badtux the Multi-POV Penguin

  9. My hippy dippy Israeli friends do not bear any ill towards their fellow citizens who are Arab. But I also know that they would agree with you that racism and bigotry towards Arab citizens is a problem. It is also a problem here (I'm lookin' at you Lowes)

  10. FWIW, modern Hebrew is arguably a "made-up language."

  11. Thank you, Badtux, for bringing insight to an otherwise knee-jerk liberal response.

    You are correct in your interpretation of how most Europeans see the matter. There really are no "Palestinians", just more deracinated Arabs. As you say, the Israelis have contributed to the issue by recognizing an "identity", which was a political expedient.

    Thank you for not being an echo.


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