Likud’s perfect candidate: Newt Gingrich (UPDATED)

Israel/PalestineMiddle EastUS Politics
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For an update to this story, scroll to the bottom.

Newt Gingrich is running hard to the right on Israel/Palestine, as his recent comments on Palestinians show. You would be forgiven if you thought that Gingrich was running to be the head of the Likud Party in Israel instead of the GOP.

Andrew Sullivan has been on this story, calling the Likud-GOP alliance a “new fusion” (though it’s not really new). “Gingrich has all but declared that under his presidency, the American position would be that of Netanyahu’s,” Sullivan recently wrote.

And Gingrich does not dispute this; he’s promoting it as a way to “get more [Jewish] votes in swing states” and to “get some money from the obvious corners in the Jewish community,” as New Yorker editor David Remnick tells Haaretz. It’s also a way to cement the Christian Zionist vote.

Here’s Gingrich, in a recent interview with The Jewish Channel, on his ideological kinship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a member of the right-wing Likud Party:

I see myself as in many ways being pretty close to Bibi Netanyahu in thinking about the dangers of the world. I believe in a tough-minded realism. I believe that if somebody is firing rockets at you, they are probably not engaged in the peace process. I believe if somebody goes around and says you don’t have a right to exist, they’re probably not prepared to negotiate for peace. I think if someone says they wanna wipe you out, you should believe them. So I see a much more tougher-minded, and much more honest approach to the Middle East in a Gingrich administration.

The shared worldview is clear when examining Gingrich’s and Netanyahu’s remarks on the Arab uprisings. In the same interview with The Jewish Channel, Gingrich said:

I think we’re much more likely to see an Arab winter, than we are to see an Arab Spring. The fact is that when people point out that of the 1,200,000 Christians who were in Iraq when we arrived, 700,000 have fled the country. That doesn’t strike me as a success. When you know that Coptic Christians who have been in Egypt for 2,100 years are now being persecuted and having their churches burned, that doesn’t strike me as a success. I think the Israeli Defense Minister said the other day that he’s very concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood’s success in this recent election.

Remember, I think 15% of the seats went to people who are more extreme than the Muslim Brotherhood…So, I think there’s a lot to be concerned about, and whether or not the Arab world is going to evolve now in a very negative, probably very destructive, way.

Netanyahu made similar claims in a recent Knesset speech he delivered on the Arab uprisings, saying that the Arab world was “moving not forward, but backward.”

And it’s not just ideology that binds Netanyahu and Gingrich together, though. It’s also cash. The Forward reports:

Billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, one of the wealthiest men in the world and a major donor to Jewish and conservative causes, is widely known as a Netanyahu stalwart. Less well known are his equally close ties to Gingrich, to whom he has been a major giver in recent years.

Adelson’s faith in Gingrich hasn’t been particularly contagious. High-profile Jewish supporters of Gingrich remain tough to find, even as Gingrich has rocketed into the GOP lead in national polling. Still, the former House speaker’s ties to Adelson, his relationship with Netanyahu and a foreign policy team packed with neoconservatives leave him well situated in the competition for pro-Israel voters.

Neither a spokesman for Adelson nor for the Gingrich campaign responded to repeated requests for comment for this story. But the alliance of Adelson and Gingrich is famous in Jewish Republican circles.

“They have been tremendous fans and supporters of Newt from day one,” Fred Zeidman, a Texas oil executive and prominent Republican Jewish supporter of Romney, said of Adelson and his wife, Miriam.

Adelson, who ranked eighth in Forbes’s 2011 list of the richest Americans, is chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns casinos in Las Vegas and Macau, China. He has been a major funder of Taglit-Birthright Israel, which sends young Diaspora Jews on free trips to Israel, and has been among the most significant American supporters of Netanyahu. In 2007 he launched a free right-of-center newspaper in Israel called Israel Hayom.

At the same time, Adelson is among the largest political donors in the United States. Adelson and his wife rank second among individual contributors to federal candidates, parties and political action committees in the current election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Adelson has given particularly heavily to Gingrich-associated organizations. Between 2006 and 2010 he donated $7 million to American Solutions for Winning the Future, one of Gingrich’s political groups, according to a database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Sullivan is right when he described the scary consequences of the Likud-GOP fusion:

You can view the US as a global power, assessing its values and interests in a secular fashion. Or you can view the US as the most powerful Christianist force in the world, and its foreign policy as one shaped by fear and loathing of Islam and fusion with Judaism.

If you believe the former, you will see why you’d want to keep the US on the right side of the Arab Spring, calm Jihadism by getting Israel to accept a two-state solution soon, and then embrace a defensible Israel as a vital democratic country in the world. But if you believe the latter, you believe that Israel has a Biblical right to all of the West Bank, and to a permanent apartheid-style Greater Israel with a permanently disenfranchized and restive Arab majority. Moreover, you see Israel’s clash with Iran as a no-brainer. In the Judeo-Christian war with Islam, it fits right in. Of course, the US should back such a war. As the leader of the Judeo-Christian front against Islam, it should initiate it.

So as much as Obama has done nothing in the face of relentless settlement expansion and demolition of Palestinian homes, it could get worse with Gingrich as president. Instead of one Likudnik in power, you’d have two.

UPDATE: Politico‘s Ben Smith reports on a revealing Gingrich moment from last night that makes clear that his antipathy to Arabs and Muslims is not limited by the borders of the Middle East:

John McCain in 2008 took the occasional strange, xenophobic question about Barack Obama, and routinely batted them back: Obama wasn’t scary, or (God forbid!) “an Arab,” as one woman memorably told him. He was a decent family man, just wrong on the issues. There’s little upside in correcting voters who hate your opponent, but McCain had political reasons to worry about being tainted by the fringe, and no evident personal inclination to indulge a stew of bigotry and misinformation.

Newt Gingrich missed a moment like that last night in Windham, when a young man — as student at Windham High School, I think — asked a question that began, “Islam is trying to take over this country.”

The questioner went on for a while, noting that he was a Christian and wanted his rights protected against Islam. The crowd applauded.

Gingrich didn’t quite endorse the question, but he certainly didn’t correct it: There was no caveat that most American Muslims are good citizens, or that Constitutional rights apply to all religions. Instead Gingrich pivoted directly into a riff about the dual threats, to Christians and Jews, of Sharia law and of secularism.

The moment captured Gingrich’s political skills: He offers parts of the Republican base who are used to being dismissed and marginalized by the mainstream media — for what was, in this particular case, an actual fringe conspiracy theory, or at best a wild overstatement — a sense of legitimacy and intellectual heft, a sense that their concerns are part of a profound, deep, and fundamental structural concern.

For more on Gingrich’s anti-Muslim obsession with sharia, see this Washington Post article by Michael Gerson.

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