The Gingrich in Jerusalem anecdote


 Robert Wright at the Atlantic flags this anecdote recounted a few weeks ago by Danny Seidemann of Ir Amin, and repeated by Sarah Wildman in this chat with Sarah Posner on BloggingHeads TV.

Essentially, it comes down to this: In 1998, Newt Gingrich, then speaker of the U.S. House of representatives, visited Jerusalem.

Ehud Olmert, then the city’s mayor, wanted Gingrich to break ground on at the site Israel has designated for the U.S. embassy, should it ever move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Gingrich checked with Bill Clinton, who asked him not to, saying it could precipitate an international incident. Gingrich deferred, saying the president determines foreign policy.

Then, Olmert, shepherding Gingrich back from another engagement (visiting Har Homa), ordered the driver to pull over as they were passing what was to be the embassy shovel ceremony. Gingrich objected, and said if the driver did not continue on, he would walk back to his hotel. Olmert acquiesced.

Wildman and Posner (and Wright) see this as a contrast with Gingrich’s current posture as a presidential candidate, which is to move the embassy on his first day in office. They segue into a discussion of Sheldon Adelson’s influence on Gingrich.

I think they’re missing the point: This is not about Jerusalem, or Adelson, it is about executive prerogative. Gingrich would move the embassy his first day in office because he would be president.

Gingrich’s feelings on Jerusalem were nothing new, nor were his feelings on executive prerogative, even in 1998: Three years earlier,  he had shepherded the Jerusalem law, that would authorize such a move, through Congress. Attached to it was a liberal presidential waiver, which Clinton and his successors have handily used.

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