Romney is right, culture matters, Part One

Mitt Romney has moved on to Poland, but his critics continue to harp on his statement in Israel that cultural factors help explain why the Israeli economy so massively outstrips its Palestinian counterpart. For example, the Washington Post’s Scott Wilson calls Romney’s remark “puzzling” and “not widely shared in Israel.”

Wilson presents no evidence in support of his latter assertion, and the headline of his story, “In Israel, Romney wows crowds but puzzles with grasp of Palestinian relationship” seems almost self-contradictory. How could Romney wow crowds by expressing a view of the relationship with Palestinians that they don’t share?

Moreover, Seth Mandel at Commentary destroys Wilson’s claim. Indeed, Mandel finds support for Romney’s view even among Palestinians. He quotes Eyad El-Sarraj, the founder and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, as follows:

Palestinians have to address taboos and bring into the open ideological, cultural and political weaknesses which have infiltrated their national movement and seriously damaged their individual and collective awareness. They have to address their dependency on the outside world, their self-indulgent image of the victim, their own cycle of violence and oppression, their conflict between religious and secular identity, and the erosion of their national identity. Above all they have to confront the loss of the dream of liberating all of Palestine and the accompanying grief. They will have to exercise democratic debate and respect the right to oppose. Only then will a new style of political and community leadership evolve.

The author made these comments in 1994, but it would be difficult to argue that the problems he identified do not persist or that they do not help explain why Palestinians haven’t prospered.

Moreover, Mandel reminds us that last year, Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem were asked whether, in a final peace deal in which all Israeli control and stewardship over the West Bank would cease and the new Palestinian state called East Jerusalem its sovereign capital, they would rather be citizens of Israel or Palestine? Respondents were also asked if they would move elsewhere in Israel specifically to avoid having to live under Palestinian rule. A plurality responded in favor of Israeli citizenship, even if they had to move. And remember, this is in the context of a peace deal that ends the “occupation.”

Thus, even the Arabs of East Jerusalem recognize the serious defects associated with Palestinian rule. These defects are in part cultural as Romney, and Eyad El-Sarraj, say. Ignoring them, whether in the name of political correctness or Romney bashing, does no one any good — except President Obama. But perhaps that’s enough for the Washington Post.

JOHN adds: I don’t want to disrupt Paul’s train of thought, but I think it is blindingly obvious that Palestinian culture is problematic–to put it as politely as possible–and that culture is largely responsible for the woeful conditions in which the Palestinians live. One could go on at great length about this, but let me just cite two posts. First, this one, about the fact that sixty years after the event, a large percentage of Palestinians continue to be “refugees,” a phenomenon unprecedented in history. Second, this one, about a kindergarten graduation in Gaza–one of the sickest things I’ve ever seen. Read that post, look at the photos, and consider what future those kids have. Then ask yourself how anyone can be foolish enough to deny that culture matters.

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