Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel has gone well, and should help him recover a bit from the rocky beginning to his voyage abroad. In England, Romney offended the Brits. Even though the offending comments were justified, Romney shouldn’t have made them. Britain is a key ally.
In Israel, as Politico reports, Romney offended Palestinian leaders. Again, his comments were on the mark, as I’ll discuss in a moment. But this time Romney was hardly offending an ally — recall the cheers of the Palestinian people after 9/11 and the support many expressed for suicide bombings in polls conducted thereafter (even these, Palentinians view al Qaeda more favorably than they view President Obama). Palestinian leaders may not be able to handle the truth, but that shouldn’t deter our leaders from expressing it. For too long, they have been deterred, and that includes Republican leaders.
What did Romney say that was so offensive? He told Israelis that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians. He compared this phenomenon to the cultural advantage the U.S. enjoys over Mexico, where Romney’s father was born.
Naturally, Palestinian leaders were not happy to hear this. Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, promptly labeled Romney’s remarks racist. But it’s not racist to understand that not all cultures are equally conducive to economic growth. Rather, such an understanding is the beginning of wisdom, and until the advent of the dictatorship of political correctness, it was recognized as such.
Erekat also blamed the Palestinian economic plight on Israel. It is true, as Politico notes, that Israel controls movement in and out of its country, a necessity given the wave of terrorism inflicted by Palestinians on Israel. But this restriction hurts Palestinians only because Israel is so much more economically dynamic than Gaza and the West Bank to begin with. That’s why the Palestinian economy suffers from any travel restrictions.
Romney’s cultural analysis also helps explain why the Arab states that surround Israel fare so much worse economically. In fact, by and large, they seem to fare worse than the Palestinians.
Erekat also opined that Romney “lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves; I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.” Israelis may not publicly boast about cultural superiority. But few who have spent time in Israel will believe that Israelis attribute their economic superiority to the oppression of Palestinians or the notion that their neighbors just can’t catch a break. Abba Eban’s statement that the Arabs “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” sums up the prevailing sentiment.
But the most ridiculous take on Romney’s remark comes not from a Palestinian, but from Abraham Diskin, a political science professor at the Inter-Disciplinary Center near Tel Aviv. The nutty professor said: “You can understand this remark in several ways; you can say it’s anti-Semitic — ‘Jews and money.’”
You can say that if you’re a self-hating Jew. You can say it if you’re auditioning for a spot on Team Obama. But you can’t say it with any credibility.
The Middle East desperately needs an American president who doesn’t accept the conventional wisdom on the region and who, above all, rejects a narrative that blames Israel for Arab woes. Whether Romney proves to be that president, as opposed to one who talks a good game on the campaign trail, remains to be seen. But Romney has shown in other contexts that he understands the importance of culture. And for now, he is on the right track when it comes to the culture of the Middle East.