Newt Gingrich is an invented person. How could he not be? His name sounds like something inbetween Charles Dickens and Dr Seuss, he appears to have been drawn by a failed caricaturist or an elephant holding a paintbrush in its trunk, he has, to my knowledge, never once done anything to suggest that he’s an actual living human being with the kind of moral and psychological complexities that only storybook villains seem able to go without. But for some unfathomable reason people allow this fictional character to hold political office, and to appear on TV so he can engorge his throat sac at the viewing public. And on Friday, Newt was happily croaking away on the Jewish Channel when his gular burps arranged themselves into a series of incredibly stupid words:
INTERVIEWER: Now on Israel, do you consider yourself a Zionist?
NEWT: Well, I believe that the Jewish people have the right to have a state, and I believe that the commitments that were made at a time- remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. 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. And for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and I think it’s tragic.
I want to briefly address this idea, because besides being jaw-droppingly moronic, it’s also fairly commonly espoused by Zionists (who are, to be fair, always big fans of long-discredited ideas – I remember being constantly fed the old canard about Arab radio broadcasts rather than Jewish ethnic cleansing causing the mass depopulation of Palestinian villages during the 1948 war, and this at a relatively liberal peacenik-y synagogue; and Joan Peters’ From Time Immemorial is still cited as a source by Zionist commentators such as Alan Dershowitz despite its patent nonsense about a ‘country without a people’ being extensively debunked).
I don’t know what kind of definition of ‘people’ our bloated newty friend is using, but it’s a pretty weird one. Of course the notion of a Palestinian people is an invented one. So is that of an Israeli people, an American people, an English people, whatever. I thought it was common knowledge to everyone who hasn’t just stepped out of a time machine from the 19th Century that all ethnic identities are social constructs (although if Newt had just arrived in our time from the days of scientific racism that would certainly explain his economic policies). Unless you’re the kind of swivel-eyed lunatic that goes around measuring people’s cranial sizes it should be pretty obvious that ethnicity doesn’t have any real objective basis. It’s a matter of self-identification, and if a group considers itself to be a distinct people, then that’s exactly what it is. End of.
More to the point, though, even if there wasn’t a distinct Palestinian identity before 1948, so what? Is it then alright to ethnically cleanse them, occupy their ancestral lands, deny them self-determination, bomb them at sporadic intervals, tear down their houses and villages, shoot their peaceful demonstrators in the face with tear gas canisters, import and protect a population of settlers that burns their fields and abuses them on the street, subject them to an extensive system of apartheid, enact blockades that turn their meagre scraps of territory into the world’s biggest prison camp – all because their national identity doesn’t have the same long pedigree as yours does?
If the Incredible Newt is allowed to declare by fiat that the Palestinians are not a people, then I can do the same to him. Newt Gingrich is not a person. He’s a delusion, a collective hallucination. And, of course, invented beings can hardly claim human rights. They certainly shouldn’t be allowed to run for President.