Republican hopeful Gingrich fuels controversy over Palestinian 'invented people' remarks

Sunday, December 11, 2011

File photo of Gingrich at Iowa fair.
Image: Gage Skidmore.

Front-runner for the United States Republican Party Presidential candidacy Newt Gingrich declined an opportunity prior to Saturday's Iowa debate to back down from his earlier assertion that the Palestinians are an "invented people". Amongst condemnatory responses in the US, Democratic Senator Carl Levin issued a statement saying, "Gingrich offered no solutions — just a can of gasoline and a match."

Candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the 2012 Presidential election campaign are jostling for support from the influential Jewish block; Gingrich's inflammatory remarks were made earlier this week in an interview with cable TV's Jewish Channel. "Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire," Gingrich asserted. "We've had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community [...] 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".

Hanan Ashrawi, spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), said Gingrich appeared to have "lost all touch with reality" and that his comments "reveal ignorance and racism as well as a cheap attempt to woo pro-Israeli voters at the expense of Palestinian rights and peace in the region." She summed up her view of the US-Israeli relationship as, "many people, including Americans, [...] consider Tel Aviv the architect of American foreign policy."

Saturday's debate between the candidates in Des Moines, Iowa, the twelfth since the start of campaigning, saw Gingrich's rivals also criticising his background in Washington; Mitt Romney, ex-Governor of Massachusetts, pushed his ideas on rescuing the country's economy and stated, "[w]e don't need folks who are lifetime Washington people".

Gingrich, in the debate, further defended his comments to the Jewish Channel about Palestinians: "Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth. These people are terrorists."

Current polling by Gallup puts Gingrich 12 points ahead of Romney on 23%. The remaining five candidates, all with single-digit support, are Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman. Their degree of support runs down from 9% for Paul to 2% for former Utah governor Huntsman, who did not attend the debate.