Juliette Kayyem
The Boston Globe (Opinion)
December 19, 2011 - 1:00am

NEWT GINGRICH’S Palestinian-bashing is more than sheer pandering to the Jewish vote, a vote that is sophisticated enough to recognize the pandering of any politician. Though Gingrich may be getting flak for his claims that the Palestinians are an invented people, his desire to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a divided city whose control is a core dispute in the ongoing peace process — is equally controversial. Indeed, Gingrich’s policies that claim such fidelity to Israel can’t be validated by history tomes or some searching analysis of the Torah.

Gingrich’s playbook is more “The Audacity of Hope’’ — as in, the 2008 Barack Obama campaign.

Gingrich’s determination to be more pro-Israel than any of his GOP rivals is reminiscent of the tactics surrounding the 2008 primary showdown between Obama and Hillary Clinton. In one of their most contentious debates, Clinton mocked the young senator for his suggestion that he would, as president, sit down with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to begin a dialogue. Clinton argued she would not soil the power of the presidency with such an overture.

As president, Obama has never met with Iranian rulers, and chances are he never intended to. But his promise of dialogue — a counter to President Bush’s interventionist foreign policy — was an important narrative at the time. A strong cup of Persian tea, a nice speech, and the world would be good with Obama.

The party, and eventually the nation, loved it. Because it wasn’t Bush, wasn’t war, wasn’t wasting a lot of money overseas. And, again, it wasn’t Bush.

Fast forward and Gingrich’s Middle East policy is simply an assurance to everyone else that he isn’t Barack Obama or some tool of a foreign-policy establishment that has long left the future of Jerusalem for Israelis and Palestinians to decide.

Even Gingrich’s previous forays into Israeli politics gives some explanation for why the embassy has never moved from Tel Aviv. In 1995, Gingrich pushed legislation through Congress to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, and every president since then has utilized a statutory waiver to bypass it. They know that any move would violate US impartiality in the peace process.

In 1998, during a disastrous visit to Israel, Gingrich again reiterated his support for the US embassy to be located in a place that is the “united and eternal capital of Israel,’’ a claim that is opposed by much of the Islamic world. Promising to visit a site in Jerusalem that might be considered for a new embassy, Gingrich backed down, recognizing that his visit threatened to undermine the unhappy, but negotiated, stalemate over the true ownership of the city.

Jerusalem’s future does not lie in an embassy move. Newt Gingrich knows that, and he would get no further in settling the peace process by such a blatant show of pro-Israeli bias. What Gingrich also knows is that his party is struggling with a defining foreign policy agenda. Party supporters are divided between extreme isolationists and aggressive interventionists.

Gingrich’s diehard allegiance to Israel is a way to align himself with the side he knows might win — the hawks who decry Obama’s weakness. Gingrich is not only presenting himself as anti-Obama, but the most anti-Obama of all the GOP hopefuls. It is exactly the tactic that Obama used against Hillary Clinton; he was more anti-Bush than she was.

As for Jerusalem, the Supreme Court is now deciding whether US citizens born in the city can have their passport stamped with Israel as their place of birth. Bush and Obama have both interpreted a statute that requires such passports to include the word Israel as an unconstitutional infringement on a president’s capacity to govern foreign policy. Not unexpectedly, a long line of advocates have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Jerusalem, Israel.

Noticeably absent from that list of supporters is Israel itself. That nation is well aware that a US Supreme Court case about passport stamping, or an embassy move, is not going to solve the Palestinian issue. It will only inflame the dispute. Israel’s silence is proof that sometimes not having an opinion is the most audacious act of all. Gingrich will have to learn that if he ever becomes president.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017