In progressive America, an official elected in a predominantly Jewish district in the country’s largest city can be punished for asserting an indisputable historical fact if it happens to offend the sensibilities of hard-left activists. In this case, Kalman Yeger, a councilman from Brooklyn, in a back-and-forth about Rep. Ilhan Omar, tweeted that, “Palestine does not exist. There, I said it again. Also, Congresswoman Omar is an antisemite. Said that too.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio quickly issued an ultimatum to Yeger demanding he apologize, or else. After he refused, NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson booted Yeger from—what I assume is a wholly useless—city immigration committee. “I found Council Member Yeger’s comments completely unacceptable…” Johnson explained. “They were dehumanizing
to Palestinians and divisive, and have no place in New York City.”
Yeger’s statements might be debatable—perhaps some of you don’t find Omar’s numerous attacks on American Jews anti-Semitic—but the other contention is a historical and present-day reality. Despite this, nearly every media story covering the kerfuffle frames the councilman’s contention about the status of the West Bank and Gaza as some kind of appalling attack on decency. What other Howard Zinn-like historical fantasies must we adopt to participate in debate?
“Now, if he comes out and he apologizes, and says, ‘Look, I was wrong and I realize what I did was hurtful and I’ve got to change,’ different discussion,” de Blasio said. Pointing out that there’s no nation called Palestine might be provocative and argumentative, but the contention is no less accurate because of the emotional reaction it provokes. The American left’s censorship mission creep already deems numerous words and ideas off limits if enough people act insulted. Now, they’re trying to impose limits on speaking out about incontestable geopolitical truths.
Although one day it might, Palestine doesn’t exist today. An independent Arab Palestine has never existed. It didn’t exist under the Ottoman rule or the British Mandate or, in the end, under a United Nations Partition Plan that was rejected by every single Arab state and Palestinian leadership. It didn’t exist when the Palestinians were governed by governments in Jordan and Egypt (a time when there was virtually no international pressure to create an independent Palestine) and it didn’t come into existence when the Arab states rejected Israel’s peace gestures after the 1967 and 1973 wars.
Yasser Arafat ultimately rejected peace in every negotiation he ever participated in, embracing Intifada instead. Palestine didn’t exist after Israel granted Gaza autonomy and the populace turned to the terrorists of Hamas, and it won’t exist until Hamas and Fatah stop engaging in and supporting terrorism and drop their absurd demands for Jerusalem and the Right of Return.
Rashida Tlaib can put as many sticky notes over Israel as she likes, and it won’t change this reality.
A number of media outlets covering this incident point out that the United Nations and 137 states have “bilaterally” recognized Palestine. While it’s nice that Botswana and Cuba (and scores of other nations that suppress their own minority populations) have decided to act as if a small, disputed territory in the Middle East is an independent entity, the United States does not recognize a Palestinian nation. More significantly, the only country that can make the Palestinian state a reality is Israel.
Contra Johnson, pointing out the fact that Palestinians have never governed their own nation is not “dehumanizing.” Nor is pointing out the fact that the Arab use of “Palestinian” is a relative historical neologism mean there are no such people today. Simply because there’s no Kurdistan doesn’t mean that 35 million Kurds (whose independence the UN doesn’t care one wit about) do not exist. Nor does the absence of the Basque country or Balochistan mean that there aren’t Basques or Balochs. The same goes for the hundreds of other minority populations that have as good, if not far better, claims to statehood.
The United Nations and other anti-Israel organizations and activists have attempted to rewrite history and reality to create an inevitability around a future Palestinian state. That’s why they’re so offended by those who try to correct the historic record. The attempted regulating of rhetoric, and the imposition of false history, is meant to stifle debate. None of this is new. Watching elected New Yorkers like de Blasio and Johnson help them, however, is.
New York has come a long way from the days when Mayor Rudy Giuliani kicked Arafat, the father of modern terrorism, out of Lincoln Center. Almost every mayor going back to the creation of Israel, in fact, stuck up for the Jewish community—a community that has incrementally surrendered its cultural history to progressivism. In the end, though, Yeger only stated truth. Perhaps it’s an uncomfortable truth. But it’s not as if he claimed that Palestinians were hypnotizing the world with evil deeds.
David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. He is the author of the new book, First Freedom: A Ride Through America's Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today. Follow him on Twitter.