An Invented People

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

There are times in life when we need to be jolted into reality, into considering our past. We often become so entangled with the moment that we forget fundamental facts, realities that served as the foundation upon which we built our positions. This phenomenon is amply portrayed in the current race for the White House.

Time and time again the media points out that a once held principled position of a given candidate is now in complete opposition to the same politician’s current viewpoint. And this phenomenon is not limited to one candidate. The President, the Republicans in the race for their party’s nomination all suffer this malady. Why?

Perhaps just perhaps the answer is that in today’s world of high tech, of instant communication, with the constant bombardment one receives, one feels compelled to nuance our every position to make it more palatable for those we wish to influence, from whom we wish to garner support – in this instance, to receive their vote. Slowly but surely nuance after nuance draws one ever closer to a position that is antithetical to the one held but a few short years ago. Its not that folks are less principled today. Rather, the onslaught of instant communication has made it more difficult than ever before to maintain a keystone principle.

Recently Newt Gingrich made a statement during an interview on a Jewish cable network that became headline news. For many in the media it highlighted Newt’s tendency to say whatever is on his mind at the moment seeming not to weigh the consequences.

And what was that statement? He casually reminded us that in his words, the Palestinians are an “invented People.” Continuing on he recalled that the Palestine of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries referred to the current sovereign states of Israel and Jordan and was for many years part of the Ottoman Empire. Those Arabs who lived in this territory were just that – Arabs, no different from their fellow Arabs in other parts of the Middle East.

Response from the Palestinians was immediate. They stated that Newt simply didn’t know what he was talking about. We Palestinians, they insisted, have been a distinct ethnicity in the Middle East for thousands of years. A ridiculous and false statement to be sure, yet it received no challenge as if it was a given of human history. That the founder of Islam himself, the religion that so dominates and molds today’s Arab world, was born less than two thousand years ago, alone refutes this assertion of “fact.” seems to have eluded everyone.

Do you remember when it was the stated position of the State of Israel that history bears out the truth that there is no such People as the Palestinians? Do you recall that the desire on the part of the Palestinians for their own state remarkably was unknown until after the Six Day war? Indeed, the concept of a Palestinian People took shape after 1967.

How often did we American Jews suggest to our countrymen that none other than the iconic Mark Twain himself, recounting his world tour, which he took two years after the civil war ended, several years before the birth of Herzel’s Zionism, in his book “Innocence Abroad” included chapters on the Holy Land. He noted his encounters with Bedouins, with Jews, but nowhere does he recount an encounter with Palestinians. As you may recall Yassir Arafat would point out that in that very time period when Twain was in the Holy Land, there was a vibrant Palestinian community in such cities as Bethlehem. Twain’s description of Bethlehem interestingly makes no mention of this thriving metropolis of Palestinians. Twain wrote concerning Bethlehem: “[Bethlehem,] the hallowed spot where the angels sang, ‘Peace on earth, good will to men,’ is untenanted by any living creatures.”

Yet today Gingrich is called out for stating that which is the truth, is the history of that war torn land.

Perhaps it is time for the Jewish People to stand by truth and fact and not allow ourselves to be entangled in the nuances of the day. I know from a practical point of view this changes little. Pragmatically Israel must find some way to deal with those who define themselves as Palestinians. Yet I do yearn to hear the Biblical gift of Israel to the Jewish People unashamedly pointed out by my fellow Jews. And yes, I as well would relish the exposure of the falsehood of a Palestinian People articulated once again. In the end the true peace we so seek can only be built upon the foundational bedrock, of truth. It surely cannot stand on the quicksand of falsehood.

A great Chassidic Rebbe taught that in the days prior to the advent of the Messianic era, truth will be as a tightrope. As we begin our walk upon it, praying for its support and stillness, someone will come along and give the tightrope a slight ping. It is not easy to base our every step our every utterance upon truth. Yet it remains the only way we can cross the abyss of falsehood that stands between us and the mountain of G‑d.