Chris Christie Refers To Israel's 'Occupied Territories' In Speech, And Is Now Frantically Trying To Backpedal
Oops. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has apologized for referring to "occupied territories" during a Saturday event hosted by billionaire Republican backer Sheldon Adelson. The remark, delivered in the context of praising Israel's tolerance and resolve in the face of surrounding military threats, nonetheless sent murmurs through the room.
Contrary to the broader global understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to the designations by the United Nations, Israel's government and many stateside supporters deny that Palestinians in these territories live under occupation.
The genesis of the argument dates back to 1967, when Israel won the brief but bloody Six-Day War against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, and seized control of a territory previously belonging to each — from Egypt the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, from Jordan the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and from Syria the Golan Heights.
Israel has maintained varying degrees of military presence and control over those areas since, withdrawing from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982, and maintaining that it hasn't occupied the Gaza Strip since its 2005 "disengagement." Owing to its continued control over Gaza's airspace, surrounding waters, and the movement of both Palestinian residents and supplies, however, the United Nations and many NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) still classify Israel as an occupier.
It's important to remember that the image of Israeli opinion we often receive in the United States is undeniably colored by the state's powers-that-be. In recent years, the narrative has been rather conservative, behind the strength of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party, and as such the tone of Israeli politics, as presented in American media, tends to come across as very conservative.
It's worth keeping in mind that this position isn't a universal one within the Jewish state. There's a tradition of left-wing and even anti-Zionist thought within Israeli communities that wouldn't balk at Christie's hapless slip-up.
Sheldon Adelson, however, is not of that mentality. Himself Jewish and a major financial backer of Birthright Israel, which organizes free trips to Israel for young Jews living abroad, Adelson's deeply-personal zeal gives him a different look than most garden-variety conservative mega-donors. Rather than fixate wholly on using his money or power to enrich himself further, he devotes time and influence to engage in a vigorous national project.
Basically, he's precisely the sort of guy that a presumptive Republican presidential contender doesn't want to annoy.
In context, Christie said:
I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across, and just felt personally how extraordinary that was, to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day.
That's not exactly a fire-breathing condemnation. In fact, it's plain as day that he's hailing and taking the side of the Israeli military, not trying to wax philosophical about the injustices of occupation. However slight Christie's semantic transgression may have been, however, he clearly wasn't willing to let it stand, as a source told Politico.
... he misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’ And he conveyed that he is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement.