Self-declared professor and historian Newt Gingrich led the charge by negating Palestinian existence. Speaking on a Jewish online television station, Gingrich contradicted what the Israeli government did in 1993 when it recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. By cherry-picking historical evidence to back his convoluted argument, Gingrich claimed that Palestinians are an ‘invented’ people.
Of course, the textbook statement he referred to doesn’t exist. The Associated Press went through the trouble of interviewing Israeli, Palestinian and American experts who have been deeply involved in the issue. Their conclusion was simple. According to researchers, Gingrich’s claim —“is not in any of the texts.” AP went further and stated, “A review of some texts by the AP, as well as several studies by Israeli, Palestinian and international researchers, found no direct calls for violence against Israel.”
Fact-checking sites, pundits and politicians failed to deal with the issue. And despite the AP story, no major American journalist, columnist, debater or think tank has called for or demanded that Gingrich admit and apologize for this brazen lie. The US government, which until recently funded Palestinian ministry of education projects, didn’t set the record straight even though the US presidential nominee implicated the US government in paying to print books that “teach terrorism.”
Still worse is what is happening in the U.S. Congress. A hold has been placed on U.S. funding for Palestinian health and educational programs. The hold, which was placed last fall by a Republican representative from Florida, is intended to punish the Palestinian Authority because its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, dared to ask the United Nations to recognize Palestine as a state
Even more perplexing is what happened in early January when it was revealed that restrictions placed on money already approved and allocated by the U.S. Congress included holding money for the Palestinian version of Sesame Street. The Washington Post and other U.S. media outlets reported that $2.5 million committed for teaching Palestinian children tolerance and mutual respect was part of the hold instituted by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).
American politicians appear to be using precious little long-term thinking when it comes to Israel and Palestinians. Falsehoods declared on national television about textbooks are debunked by no one in the U.S. government. The silence appears to be less a consequence of ignorance than of fear. Politically, there is little to gain from saying an honest word regarding U.S. policy on Israel and Palestine. Consequently, the Republican-controlled Congress proceeds merrily on its course and holds up the funding that could rectify what experts agree is a non-existent problem of Palestinian textbook incitement.
Bashing Palestinians remains an easy political pastime, especially at election time. It is tragic, however, that demagogic electioneering – and outright lies – can lead to the loss of responsible children’s television programming for Palestinian kids. And it is telling that broader funding for Palestinian civil society can be closed off simply because Palestinian leaders asserted the right of Palestinians to live free in a state of our own.
Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and executive producer of Sharaa Simsim, the Palestinian version of Sesame Street.