Column

08.01.12

Pandermonium

Yes, Mitt Romney’s ‘analysis’ of the economic disparities between Israelis and Palestinians was racist on multiple levels.

There is just something about those Jews; they are so good at making money. Most people in the modern world would dismiss such a statement as anti-Semitic. But when the presumptive Republican candidate for president insinuates the same in the pursuit of pandering for pro-Zionist support it seems excusable.

There is a history of excusing the perpetuation of, or even engaging in, anti-Semitic tropes as long as they advance the Zionist agenda. ‘Father of Zionism’ Theodor Herzl famously sought to get the Ottoman Sultan Abdel Hamid, whose empire was in severe economic crisis, to give Palestine to the Jews in return for Jewish help with his finances. The Sultan must know, Herzl notes in his diary in 1896,  that “the Jews would be prepared to devote their command of money to the regulation of Turkish finances.” He wrote what the Sultan could achieve ’with Jewish help:’“Let the Sultan give us this parcel of land [Palestine], and in return we would set his house in order, regulate his finances, and influence world opinion in his favor.”

You would think the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman would object to Romney’s statements or at minimum ask for a clarification of his comments. After all, he did write an entire book on the stereotype of Jews and money. Yet it seems that as long as Romney engages in such generalization about Jews while agreeing to say yes to Israel 100 percent of the time then it is excusable. That is why Abe Foxman did comment on Romney’s remarks…and praised them.

Romney’s remarks on culture are racist, not only for advancing stereotypes about Jews, but also because they attack Palestinian culture. Romney claims that he didn’t say anything about Palestinian culture; he may have not said it directly but the implication was clear.

In essence, Romney said that here in this same geographic space you have two economies where everything else is constant but culture. Therefore “culture makes all the difference.” In the world of social science, this is called spurious correlation, and such analysis is unbecoming of a man who has dual Law and MBA degrees from Harvard, and is running a presidential campaign on his experience as a CEO of a multi-billion dollar enterprise.

But it's not about culture. Does culture have a place in an analytical debate about economic success? Perhaps. But not at the expense of all other established variables!

The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and many other agencies have issued countless reports about the Palestinian economy and how the infrastructure of Israeli apartheid is the primary limitation of its growth. How can an economy prosper with severe restrictions on movement, restricted import and export, 500+ checkpoints, no access to 60 percent of the land for private investment, severe limitations on access to water and agricultural space, etc.? By ignoring well-established reasons for Palestinian economic limitations, i.e. Israeli restrictions, and explaining things only through differences in ‘culture,’ Romney is blaming the victims of Israeli occupation for their plight and yes, this is racism. Just imagine if he had said the same about cultural differences accounting for disparities between black and white socio-economic indicators in America without contextualizing the very real structural and historical factors that contribute to them.

In 2006, Bill Clinton, who was not worried about being elected, gave a more candid assessment of Palestinian culture and abilities: “I have never met a single poor Palestinian anywhere in the world except in the Palestinian territories. Every single Palestinian I know in America is a millionaire or a college professor, and I say that with deep respect, but when there is a conflict, when there is an absence of security, there is always an absence of opportunity."

Romney is too intelligent not to know for sure that it is the Israeli occupation and not cultural differences that has devastated the Palestinian economy. But he is so insistent on toeing the Netanyahu line that he’d make a racist comment to avoid acknowledging the very existence of occupation.

The degree of Israel pandering in this presidential election campaign is disgusting, and it's bound to get worse. The question of “Who loves Israel more?” has become a prominent part of the political discourse in an American election season.

The United States is free to have whatever sort of domestic politics it deems appropriate but don’t be surprised if I, many other Americans, and the rest of the world for that matter, scoff at any mention of America as an “even-handed mediator.”