12/14/2011 08:07 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2012

The Inventive Historian

Newt Gingrich, the self-styled and inventive historian and Republican presidential candidate recently told a Jewish audience:

Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community.

Now we all know that political candidates pander to their audiences, telling them what the candidates think they want to hear. And we know that this candidate would rather turn a clever phrase than an accurate one, especially if it draws attention to his sense of self -cleverness. And we know that is the clever phrase backfires, as did the inventive historian's characterization of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) budget plan as "right wing social engineering," he will invent a tale to rewrite history. But the above statement is so wrong on so many levels and the inventive historian is so determined not to correct it, that it ought not to be allowed to fade into history unnoticed.

If the inventive historian had dug into the historical archives as deeply, say, as Wikipedia, he would have discovered that the word "Palestine" or linguistic variants thereof have existed since ancient times. A territory roughly in the current region is mentioned multiple times in the Bible and the Torah. It had as much standing as a state or province at various stages of history as Syria, Jordan or Israel. And it was indeed "part of the Ottoman Empire" as Israel, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and several other countries in Europe and Asia. Indeed, it is possible to argue with little inventiveness that all the nations inside the triangle formed by Turkey, Egypt and Iran are artificial countries whose boundaries were drawn by the colonial powers after WWI with small post WWII adjustments.

Palestine itself was defined by a Franco-British agreement in 1920 that later became a British mandate after WWII under the United Nations. The British mandate ended with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 out of part of the territory of this mandate. The other part of the mandate kept the name of Palestine and is recognized by a number of the world's nations although not Israel, the United States and other Western powers.

The inventive historian seems to think it clever to characterize the Palestinian people as part of the "Arab Community," thus denying them a separate national identity or right to a nation. But the "Arab" community" includes Iraqis, Syrians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Libyans, Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians, Saudis and residents of the Gulf States, all of whom have associated countries last I checked.

This is not the first, nor is it likely to be the last, time that the inventive historian will fabricate "history" to use as a weapon to serve his personal or political purposes. And it is certainly not the last time that truth will be battered by a self-centered remark. Mr. Gingrich has pontificated in what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called "innovative flights." These have included shallow discourses on electro-magnetic Pulse (EMP) and the imminent danger to western civilization of Sharia Law. But the naïve if lucrative musings of a gadfly become problematic in the undisciplined narcissism of the leading GOP candidate for president of the United States.