Herman Cain Denies That Palestinian People Exist

Cain at a Jewish holy site in Jerusalem

Former pizza company CEO and GOP candidate Herman Cain started his presidential campaign — quite by accident, it seems — as an advocate for a cherished Palestinian ideal to return to their homelands throughout historic Palestine by endorsing the “right of return.” But he’s come a long way since then. Cain’s not “foreign policy dumb,” he says, and now he’s challenging reporters to take on his expertise in global affairs. He’s come so far on the Palestinian issue that he is even hedging about whether or not Palestinians have a national identity at all.

In an interview with the free Israeli daily newspaper Israel Hayom (or Israel Today), Cain, in attempt to show how President Obama’s “lack of a firm stand regarding Israel has emboldened Israel’s enemies,” made his most disparaging comments yet about Palestinians, verging on denying their existence as a people:

I think that the so-called Palestinian people have this urge for unilateral recognition because they see this president as weak.

In reality, the Palestinian national movement is decades old, if not more — and certainly older than Obama. But the most shocking part of Cain’s statement was his equivocation on the existence of the Palestinian people. As Center for American Progress analyst Matt Duss wrote last year:

Despite the fact that scholars such as Rashid Khalidi have established the emergence of a distinct Palestinian national consciousness in the 19th century, the offensive idea that the Palestinians don’t exist — or the equally offensive idea that they only exist as a negative reaction to the creation of Israel — is unfortunately still a fairly common belief among Israel hawks. […]

As Peter Beinart noted in his recent piece in the New York Review of Books, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself made the claim in his 1993 book A Place Among the Nations.

With regard to Duss’s last point, it seems Israel Hayom is the perfect place for Cain to make his statement. In a 2008 New Yorker profile of the daily paper’s owner, American right-wing billionaire Sheldon Adelson, Connie Bruck wrote:

In the Israeli media world, Israel Hayom is referred to as Bibi-ton, because many believe that it serves as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu, whose nickname is Bibi, and who has long received extraordinarily negative press coverage in Israel.

Cain’s latest comments about the “so-called Palestinian people” and his bogus interpretation of their national movement should give us an idea of what kind of progress (or lack thereof) a Cain presidency would make in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.