Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Photo courtesy ABC News
DES MOINES, Iowa – Earlier this week, Newt Gingrich told an Isreali TV station the Palestinians are an “invented” people out to destroy Israel, a statement that prompted significant disagreement between the candidates in this weekend’s GOP debate on whether it is better to exercise “truth” or “prudence” in the Middle East.
When asked about the comment, Gingrich was completely unapologetic for his controversial remarks.
“Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth,” Gingrich insisted. “[The Palestinian power groups Fatah and Hamas] are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools. They have textbooks that say, ‘If there are 13 Jews and 9 Jews are killed, how many Jews are left?’ We pay for those textbooks through our aid money. It’s fundamentally time for somebody to have the guts to stand up and say, ‘Enough lying about the Middle East.’”
He went on to say, “Is what I said factually correct? Yes. Is it historically true? Yes. … The fact is, the Palestinian claim to a right of return is based on a historically false story. Somebody ought to have the courage to go all the way back to the 1921 League of Nations mandate for a Jewish homeland, point out the context in which Israel came into existence, and ‘Palestinian’ did not become a common term until after 1977. This is a propaganda war in which our side refuses to engage. … You’re not going to win in the long run if you’re afraid to stand firm and stand for the truth.”
Twice, moderator George Stephanopoulos hinted that such bold words would “make life more difficult for the Israelis.”
“How would we know the difference?” Gingrich responded. “The Israelis are getting rocketed every day. We’re not making life more difficult. The Obama administration’s making life more difficult. … I feel quite confident an amazing number of Israelis found it nice to have an American tell the truth about the war they are in the middle of and the casualties they’re taking and the people who surround them who say, ‘You do not have the right to exist, and we want to destroy you.’”
Most of the other candidates on stage, however, suggested Gingrich overstepped prudent foreign policy.
“I happen to agree with most of what the speaker said, except by going down and saying the Palestinians are an ‘invented’ people,” Romney asserted. “That, I think, was a mistake on the speaker’s part.”
He continued, “I think we’re very wise to stand with our friends, Israel, and not get out ahead of them. … Israel does not want us to make it more difficult for them to sit down with the Palestinians. Ultimately, the Palestinians and the Israelis are going to have to agree on how they’re gonna settle differences between them.”
Ron Paul took the criticism even further.
“That’s just stirring up trouble,” Paul said of Gingrich’s words. “And I believe in a non-interventionist foreign policy. I don’t think we should get in the middle of these squabbles.”
Rick Santorum – who has been bluntly vocal about opposing Iran in the Middle East and Islamic radicalism in the U.S. – stumbled through his response on stage, but WND caught up with the candidate after the debate to clarify his position on Gingrich’s comments.
“The first priority of a candidate for president and president of the U.S. is to be sided with the state of Israel,” Santorum told WND, “and I would not be making a statement of that nature that would clearly cause a stir in the Middle East without first working with our allies to determine whether this was something that was helpful or not.
“That’s not to say Gingrich is not factually correct,” Santorum clarified, “but there’s a lot of factually correct things that may be, in fact, counterproductive to inject into the dialogue.
“I would at least check with our allies to see whether they think that would be helpful or not before I would launch into something like that,” he concluded.
In his continued defense, Gingrich asserted, “Sometimes it is helpful to have a president of the United States with the courage to tell the truth, just as was Ronald Reagan who went around his entire national security apparatus to call the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire’ and who overruled his entire State Department in order to say, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.’ Reagan believed the power of truth restated the world and reframed the world. I am a Reaganite, I’m proud to be a Reaganite. I will tell the truth, even if it’s at the risk of causing some confusion sometimes with the timid.”
When asked, Rick Perry dismissed the controversy.
“I think this is a minor issue that the media is blowing way out of proportion,” Perry said. “We have a president of the United States who has put the most muddled foreign policy in place that is causing the problems in the Middle East. … This president is the problem, not something that Newt Gingrich said.”