Denying Palestinian Identity is a Losing Strategy

The posts I see on social media by Zionists defending Israel are amazing. Some are amazingly good. Some, written by people who mean well, are unhelpful at best and self-defeating at worst. A prime example of a self-defeating idea is claiming that either Palestine or the Palestinian people don’t exist. This idea became mainstream news in the U.S. after a New York City councilman, Kalman Yeger, tweeted “Palestine does not exist.” A firestorm of criticism followed and Mr. Yeger refused to apologize, doubling down instead. As a result the city council’s leadership committee stripped Mr. Yeger of his seat on the city’s immigration council.

First, Palestine most certainly exists, as a de facto independent Gaza and an autonomous area on the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). Israel had a big part in creating modern Palestine in the Oslo Accords and the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. 137 nations recognize Palestine as a state, including many countries that have good relations with Israel. Claiming it doesn’t exist makes us look like hateful idiots. At the very least Mr. Yeger’s comments were inaccurate as well as insensitive and tactless in a city with a large Palestinian community.

Second, it is certainly true that Palestinian identity is a mid 20th century invention created as a weapon against Israel. The UN started using the name to identify Arabs in the western part of the former British Mandate of Palestine in 1951. Fatah was formed in 1961, the PLO in 1964. It came into widespread use by those people after the Six Day War. The problem now is that you have three or four generations that have no other identity. Maybe that could have been avoided 50 years ago, but Israeli officials at that time and ever since have referred to those Arabs as Palestinians.

If you haven’t read it I strongly recommend Natan Sharansky’s book “Defending Identity.” Group identity is a powerful force. Dismissing or denying it has failed and will continue to fail. Doing so makes us look like racist idiots as well.

Whataboutism and deflection, i.e.: bringing up Ilhan Omar’s blatant antisemitism, also doesn’t help our cause. I would hope Mayor De Blasio would react in the same way if a council member expressed antisemitism. That’s a parallel situation. Congress is not.

It’s perfectly acceptable to explain the history of the idea of a Palestinian ethnicity and a Palestinian state. I supported the statement former Speaker of the House and then Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich made when he referred to “an invented Palestinian people” in 2011. Mr. Gingrich was a history professor before he became a politician and he accurately explained the relatively short history of a modern Palestine. What he did not do is claim that Palestinian identity does not exist. He also did not rule out the idea of negotiating for peace or a future Palestinian state.

Mr. Yeger’s statement on Twitter came without the context Mr. Gingrich provided in his 2011 interview and on subsequent occasions. Twitter, as a medium that only allows short messages, doesn’t lend itself to history lessons. He also denied that Palestine exists today when it clearly does, albeit in two pieces and with limited sovereignty.Mr. Yeger had the opportunity to explain his statement but did not do so. I’m sorry to say that Mr. Yeger got what he deserved. He certainly did not help the cause of Zionism.

About the Author
Caitlyn Martin is an American Jewish IT professional currently working as a security engineer for a very large and well known technology company. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Caitlyn's father was Israeli and fought in the 1948-49 War of Independence. She maintains strong family ties to Israel and hopes to make aliya in the not too distant future or, at the latest, when she retires.
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