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Published on April 2nd, 2014 | by Mitchell Plitnick

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Christie’s Gaffe: Stating the Obvious

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by Mitchell Plitnick

The absurdity of political campaigns in the United States added another chapter recently when New Jersey governor Chris Christie made the “Republican hajj” to Las Vegas. Ostensibly, he was going to speak to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), but the real pilgrimage was to grovel at the feet of billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson in the hope of getting the kind of fat contribution that Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich received in 2012.

During his RJC speech, Christie made the grave mistake of using a clear fact that was unacceptable to the RJC and even more so to Adelson. He called the West Bank “the Occupied Territories.” The audience’s gasps were heard nationwide. Christie was forced to ramp his groveling up to supersonic levels when he apologized to Adelson for this nearly unforgivable blunder.

Such is the role of truth when it comes to Israel in the bizarre world of Republican pro-Israel politics. And it’s not just confined to the GOP. The Democrats have also dodged this very simple fact, and it has created a political climate where the US media also rarely refers to the occupied territories as “Occupied Territories.” The politically correct term for moderates is “disputed territories.” On the right, it’s the biblical designation, “Judea and Samaria.” Nowhere else but in the United States, not even in Israel, is it controversial to call the West Bank “occupied territory.”

Christie’s apparent gaffe was surprising since you’d think the governor of New Jersey, home to a whole slew of right-wing Jewish political donors, would know better, and this speaks ill of his ability to win the GOP nod in 2016. But it’s undeniable that he stated a blatant and indisputable fact. How accurate and accepted is the term, “Occupied Territories?” Let’s look at a few examples.

  • The International Court of Justice, in its 2004 advisory opinion on the illegality of Israel’s “security barrier,” refers specifically to the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” and even further, specifically rules that the entire West Bank is under military occupation and subject to the laws regarding such a state of affairs.
  • United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 calls for “…Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict…” (emphasis added).

It’s clear that the international system is unambiguous about the status of the West Bank. But one would not expect that to mean much to the RJC or Adelson. So what about Israel? While the official Israeli stance has long been that the areas are disputed, not occupied, even the Israeli government can’t always avoid reality.

  • The Israeli High Court of Justice has consistently ruled that the West Bank is not legally part of Israel and that the laws of belligerent occupation apply there.
  • Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon put it bluntly in 2003: “To keep 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation–you can dislike the word, but what is happening is occupation–is in my view bad for Israel, for the Palestinians and for Israel’s economy.”

But you know, those Israelis, they feel all that international pressure. So what about some US sources that the RJC might consider reliable?

  • In this video clip (about six minutes in), you can see former President George W. Bush, that noted anti-Israel liberal, saying that “Israel must stop settlement activities in the occupied territories…”
  • Since 1981, when Ronald Reagan stated that Israeli settlement expansion is not illegal, the occupation has had a politically ambiguous position in US politics. Nonetheless, a 1978 determination by the State Department’s legal adviser was accepted by the Carter administration and has never been refuted. That determination clearly calls the Territories “occupied” and renders settlements illegal.

The idea that an apology is warranted for calling the West Bank occupied is no more rational than demanding an apology for calling the sky blue or saying that Israel exists to the south of Lebanon. But Christie made it pretty clear why it happens in another piece of his RJC address. He said that Israelis “want America to be their unblinking, unwavering, unquestioning friend.” Implicit in that is criticism of President Barack Obama’s temerity in questioning any Israeli policy.

Sure, that’s not a whole lot different than the repeated statements that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have made in referring to the “unshakeable relationship” between Israel and the United States and the “zero daylight” that they falsely claim exists between US and Israeli goals. But “unquestioning?” Most parents don’t want that kind of devotion from their children, most spouses don’t expect it from their partner, and only an idiot would consider offering it to anyone.

We are all responsible for our own decisions, and as such, we should always reserve the right to question another’s. Most of us would accept that as a universal truth. The only exception most usually make is between themselves and their deity, which, apparently, is the relationship the RJC and Sheldon Adelson believe the United States should have with Israel.

Photo: Chris Christie addressing the 2014 CPAC convention. Credit: Gage Skidmore

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About the Author

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Mitchell Plitnick is the former Director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and was previously the Director of Education and Policy for Jewish Voice for Peace. He is a widely published and respected policy analyst. Born in New York City, raised an Orthodox Jew and educated in Yeshiva, Mitchell grew up in an extremist environment that passionately supported the radical Israeli settler movement. Plitnick regularly speaks all over the country on current issues. His writing has appeared in the Jordan Times, Israel Insider, UN Observer, Middle East Report, Global Dialogue, San Francisco Chronicle, Die Blaetter Fuer Deutsche Und Internationale Politik, Outlook, and in a regular column for a time in Tikkun Magazine. He has been interviewed by various outlets including PBS News Hour, the O’Reilly Factor and CNBC Asia. Plitnick graduated with honors from UC Berkeley in Middle Eastern Studies and wrote his thesis on Israeli and Jewish historiography.



4 Responses to Christie’s Gaffe: Stating the Obvious

  1. avatar James Canning says:

    Great piece. And Sheldon Adelson’s obvious attempt to pervert the course of discussion of the Israel/Palestine problem should be condemned, day in and day out. OCCUPIED TERRITORIES.

  2. avatar Farhang Jahanpour says:

    To their great credit, I have always found many educated Israelis much more open to controversial ideas than Israel’s apologists in the United States. I have debated the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran’s nuclear program, Israel’s relations with her neighbors much more openly in Israel than I have managed to do with some American neocons. By adopting such unquestioning stances about Israel these so-called friends of Israel turn many more people against Israel by their extremist views. The Arab-Israeli conflict will have to be resolved one day, but it can only be resolved on the basis of facts and honest debates, not on the basis of phantasy.

  3. avatar Norman says:

    The second from last paragraph, begs the question of those two-“O” & “B”-just why do they believe that 7 million Israelis should dictate what over 300 million Americans should believe in or do?

    Let Israel stand on its own two feet, either making it or failing, but keep the U.S. out of it.

  4. avatar Hunter says:

    And, haha, to Mitchell’s great credit he certainly had the material at the tips of his fingers when the opportunity came.

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