During his visit to Israel, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney raised eyebrows by offering an explanation for why, in his opinion, the Israeli economy is doing better than the Palestinian. Basically, in so many words, it comes down to culture. Israel and the Jews have a superior culture to that of Palestine and the Palestinians, Romney seems to feel.
“As you come here and you see the [Gross Domestic Product] per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” he said.
“Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference,” he added. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”
Most commenters on this story have pointed out the obvious—which of course is that the Israeli occupation, not culture, accounts for why the Palestinian economy lags behind Israel’s—and many have taken Romney to task over what apparently they view as off-the-cuff, ill-considered remarks. Even the staunchly pro-Israel Washington Post could not (at least at first*) seem to resist panning the candidate:
In his comments on “culture,” Romney did not mention that Israel controls crossings to both Palestinian areas. Israel has imposed a blockade on its boundary with Gaza since the Islamic militant group Hamas took over there in 2007. In the West Bank, Israel continues to restrict Palestinian trade and movement.
Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have said that the removal of such restrictions is necessary to allow Palestinian economic growth.
The same story even goes on to include a quote from Palestinian Authority spokesperson Saeb Erekat, who denounced the former Massachusetts governor’s remarks as “racist.”
“All I can say is that this man needs a lot of education. He doesn’t know the region, he doesn’t know Israelis, he doesn’t know Palestinians, and to talk about the Palestinians as an inferior culture is really a racist statement,” Erekat said.
Erekat is justified in drawing the conclusion he draws. There do seem to be some racial overtones in the remarks. The question we might ask ourselves is this: Were Romney’s comments simply careless and ill-considered, as apparently a lot of people feel…or does he truly believe Jewish culture is superior? It’s a question American voters might want to ponder long and hard before going to the polls in November.
The setting for the talk was a Monday morning Jerusalem breakfast fundraiser at which some of the candidate’s biggest contributors were present, so we can naturally assume he was deliberately trying to score points with the affluent audience. Moreover, his views on the role played by “culture” in determining a country’s economic prosperity were derived, he said, from a book entitled The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, by David Landes.
But the Wall Street Journal, in its own report on the contretemps, supplies us with a quote from another book—No Apology, written by Romney himself.
“How could Israelis have created a highly developed, technology-based economy while their Palestinian neighbors have not yet even begun to move to an industrialized economy?” Romney wrote.
And there is perhaps yet another book worth considering as well—the Book of Mormon. The latter relates a narrative under which the Americas were settled and colonized by four main groups of people. One of the groups, the Jaredites, is pre-Abrahamic. However, the other three—the Nephites, Lamanites, and Mulekites—are all descended from Israelites who allegedly sailed to the New World around the time of the Babylonian conquest to set up a new civilization here. As the Book of Mormon relates, the different tribes did not always get along, and sometimes they fought wars with each other, but their shared Hebrew ancestry is clearly stated. What for me is most striking is how little Native Americans figure into the story in any significant way.
I am of course not an expert on Mormon theology, and I want to be clear on something else as well—that I do not intend any of this as a criticism of the Mormon faith. A few years ago when a tornado struck the town I live in, some Mormons in our community got heavily involved in the disaster relief effort, and I have nothing but respect for them. But there does seem to be a high esteem for Jewish culture—at least in some of the faith’s adherents.
Of course what we have here simply are factors—all worth considering, all worth keeping in mind, as we try to make sense of Mitt Romney and just exactly what he means when he says, “Culture makes all the difference.”
And one other thing worth considering is Romney’s declaration of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—an issue that is discussed here in an article by former Israeli Roy Tov. Israel in 1980 declared Jerusalem its “undivided” capital, but this has failed to win international recognition, a failure underscored by the fact that even America, to this day, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv. Tov says Romney’s declaring of Jerusalem as the capital was the “gold” the Israelis were looking for, and he believes formal recognition, should Romney be elected, will foster a “construction boom” in Jerusalem leading ultimately to that which religious Jews have long awaited:
Jerusalem considered as a major issue by the recognition-thirsty Zionist administration. After all, what kind of country is one unable to get its capital city recognized? Such American recognition would be followed by a few other countries and lead to a construction boom in Jerusalem, strengthening the Israeli annexation efforts on the eastern part of the city…Stone by stone, Israel is eating Jerusalem. Some stones are difficult to cut, demanding sharp knives produced only by overseas friends. Romney is preparing such a sharp knife. If he wins and Israel gets Jerusalem recognized as its capital, a key step towards Israel’s digestion of Jerusalem would have taken place. The construction of a Third Temple on the place now occupied by al-Aqsa would be closer than ever.
As I have noted before, the teachings of Christ and the teachings of the Talmud are polar opposites. What will it mean if al-Aqsa is torn down and a Talmudic temple built in its place?
Will Romney’s fealty and obedience to Israel surpass even that of previous presidents should he emerge victorious in November? In him, has the Israeli Lobby found the ultimate puppet/slave it has long sought to install in the White House? Or do they already have that in Obama? The choices in this year’s election are truly bleak.
* The article in the Washington Post, quoted above, underwent some editing between the time I accessed it on Monday and the time I returned on Tuesday. The quote from Saeb Erekat referring to Romney’s comments as “racist” had been eliminated entirely, while the information supplied about Israeli control over Gaza and the West Bank had been toned down slightly. In addition, the story now mentions an endorsement of Romney by former Polish President Lech Walesa.
Romney in Jerusalem bellowing threats at Iran: