Mitt Romney traveled to Jerusalem earlier this week. He was not there on a fact-finding mission. He was raising money for his presidential campaign.
He was also cultivating American voters who live in Israel, while stroking his pro-Israel voters back home with pictures like this one (right) of the candidate praying at the Western Wall.
The only attention the Palestinians received came in a back-handed slap delivered by Romney when he spoke to a luncheon sponsored by his wealthy U.S. backer, casino owner Sheldon Adelson.
Romney told 40 wealthy donors at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel that Israel has a far superior GDP per capita than “the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority”.
Displaying a total ignorance of the prison-like occupation under which the Palestinian people must struggle, Romney explained that the “dramatically stark difference in economic vitality” was due to Israel’s superior culture.
Grossly misstating the 2009 GDF figures available on the United Nations website, Romney said:
As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars [actually $27,060], and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 [actually $1,367] per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality.”
Romney did not cross over into what he called “the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority”. He did not see for himself the so-called “security wall”. Instead like the average American tourist traveling under Israeli guides all he appeared to know about the region came from books he or his staff had read.
That reading prompted Romney to say that “some economic histories have theorized that ‘culture makes all the difference.'”
Zooming in on the financial backers he spoke to at the King David Hotel, Romney 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 [including] an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the “hand of providence.” He said similar disparity exists between neighboring countries, like Mexico and the United States.
Back in Boston, Romney was asked about such comments. He told ABC News: “You know, I tend to tell people what I actually believe.”
Future polls will have to reveal how much damage among U.S. voters Romney’s amazing display of ignorance about the history and politics of this region, has done to his political standing.
One thing is certain, however. The immediate response to Romney’s fund raising speech at the King David Hotel has been overwhelming negative, except among the candidate’s extremist U.S. and Israeli backers.
Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told the Associated Press:
It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation.
It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people. He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.
Palestinian-American business leader Sam Bahour wrote a Religious News Service column, which also ran in the Washington Post:
Mitt Romney made history on Monday. In a single speech from Jerusalem, he proved beyond a reasonable doubt that to qualify to be a U.S. presidential candidate one needs precious little understanding of history, economics, or reality. Romney has just enough to be dangerous.
With no sense of the impediments Palestinians labor under, Romney compared Israel’s economic success to that of its Palestinian neighbors and claimed the discrepancy was due to “cultural” differences and the “hand of providence.” Such blatantly racist and bigoted references to the conflicting parties are only occasionally rivaled by Israel’s most right-wing politicians.
Television host Cenk Uygur wrote for the Huffington Post site:
Mitt Romney recently said in Israel that Palestinians don’t have as high a GDP per capita as Israelis do because their culture is not as good as Jewish culture. That is both deeply racist and deeply stupid.
American academic blogger Juan Cole wrote on his blog, Informed Comment:
Mitt Romney, a privileged white man worth a quarter of a billion dollars who has sheltered his money from taxes in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland, and who never misses a square meal, stooped to a new obscene low in blaming the victim on Monday by slamming the Palestinians for not being richer. Palestinian politician Saeb Erekat characterized Romney’s remarks as “racist,” but even that was charitable. Evil, is more like it.
UK Guardian’s Rachel Shabi described Romney’s whirlwind three-country tour as “an insult-the-world tour, during which he’s constantly trying to outdo his previous personal best.”
How else to explain the Republican presidential candidate’s horribly offensive comments about Palestinians during his recent trip to Jerusalem, so soon after the clunking insults levelled at his British hosts in London last week?
Over a £16,000-a-plate campaign fundraiser breakfast with Jewish donors in Jerusalem, Romney aired his deep thoughts on “the dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality” between the Palestinian and Israeli economies. These thoughts were obtained by reading books, he prefixed, before surmising that Israeli accomplishments were down to “at least culture and a few other things” – oh, and also, “the hand of providence”.
Even the New York Times knew that it dare not remain silent in the face of Romney’s outrageous display of ignorance. In its editorial page, the Times wrote:
Mr. Romney did American interests no favors when he praised Israeli economic growth while ignoring the challenges Palestinians face living under Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza. He showed troubling ignorance by understating the income disparity between Israel and those areas. Israel, in 2009, had a per capita gross domestic product of roughly $29,800, while, in 2008, the West Bank and Gaza had a per capita gross domestic product of $2,900, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.
Times columnist Tom Friedman took note of the politics of the trip:
The question is this: Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas? I mean, it was all about money anyway — how much Romney would abase himself by saying whatever the Israeli right wanted to hear and how big a jackpot of donations Adelson would shower on the Romney campaign in return.
After Romney returned to Boston, he wrote a column for the conservative magazine National Review, not yielding an inch on his belief in Israel’s “superior culture”,
During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it. In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy.
But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture? In the case of the United States, it is a particular kind of culture that has made us the greatest economic power in the history of the earth. Many significant features come to mind: our work ethic, our appreciation for education, our willingness to take risks, our commitment to honor an oath, our family orientation, our devotion to a purpose greater than ourselves, our patriotism.
But one feature of our culture that propels the American economy stands out above all others: freedom. The American economy is fueled by freedom. Free people and their free enterprises are what drive our economic vitality.”
Somewhere in one of Ray Bradbury’s short stories, a young boy stops on the sidewalk, looking up at the top of the town hall. He is troubled because he realizes he is seeing the town clock for the first time. He thinks to himself, “If I haven’t seen the clock before, what else have I missed?”
It is a scary thought that our next president could be Mitt Romney, who traveled to Israel and ignored the obscene wall Israel has built to guarantee that the Palestinian people will have none of the freedoms he claims to espouse.
If Romney failed to grasp the obscenity of Israel’s “security wall”, what else has he missed?