The New Christie Embarrassment

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) talks to Diane Sawyer of ABC News about the George Washington Bridge scandal.
March 31, 2014 11:42 a.m.

I mentioned over the weekend how comically bad it is that Chris Christie says the phrase “Occupied Territories”, a standard if not the only way of referring to the West Bank of the Jordan, and not only gets knocked on it but actually has to apologize to territorial maximalist poobah Sheldon Adelson. But there’s another part of the story that goes beyond Christie’s dignity loss and the increasingly explicit and binding alliance between the Israeli right and the Republican party.

The truth is, this showed Chris Christie is more than a bit behind in the prep work for a presidential campaign at this stage of the cycle. As noted, in the real world, there’s nothing wrong with referring to the “occupied territories.” But the Sheldon Adelson Billionaire bubble is not the real world. Adelson is on the extreme right of Israeli and American zionist politics and is opposed to any territorial compromise with the Palestinians at all. So yeah, you’re not going to hear him saying “occupied territories.” More likely “Judea and Samaria.”

Now, as a narrow point, there’s nothing wrong with that designation. It is Judea and Samaria. These are historical names for the areas in question. And they’re deeply rooted in Jewish history. But they’re also now used to signal a belief that the Palestinians now living in those areas have no meaningful past or future on that land. In other words, it’s not just part of historic Israel but an integral part of the current Israeli state.

Now, Christie, who really doesn’t seem much like a foreign policy guy in the first place, would have sounded just as ridiculous and craven cracking out the “Judea and Samaria” phrase. But there are easy ways to dodge this rhetorical mine field. Even an Adelson type isn’t going to get bent out of the shape if you just call it the “West Bank” – which is pretty clearly what Christie was referring to, not Gaza, which is blockaded but no longer occupied.

This is the kind of thing your foreign policy advisor walks you through before speaking to a right-wing Jewish audience, albeit in this case an audience of one. Indeed, not just a right-wing Jewish audience, any Jewish audience since language in this part of the world is umbilically tied to the underlying tensions and divisions that have roiled the region for decades. It’s a goof for Christie, even though in a sane world it wouldn’t be and points to a deeper lack of preparation.

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