Mitt Romney is currently on the tail end of his three-nation overseas trip which was ostensibly designed to convince U.S. voters that he is ready to engage in some heavy-duty political wheeling and dealing if he were to become President of the United States. What Mitt Romney and Co. have actually succeeding in doing is offending millions of people via a series of comments that one writer for the Telegraph has famously described as “utterly devoid of charm and mildly offensive”–and this was just on the first day of his overseas jaunt, this was supposed to be the easy day. While in Israel, Romney continued down the path of making frenemies of the people he was supposed to be charming by suggesting that the reason for Israel success–as contrasted against the poverty of the Palestinian people–was due to “the power of at least culture and a few other things.”
Romney’s comments were promptly rebuked by a Palestinian official. “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,” said Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Romney’s aide then responded in characteristic fashion by saying that Romney’s comments had been “grossly mischaracterized.”
When asked to respond to Romney’s comments for an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, MIT economist and co-author of the book Why Nations Fail, Daron Acemoglu had this to say: “Israel is so much richer than other countries in the area because it was founded by people with high human capital bringing in technology from Europe, and has been integrated into the world economy, continuing the process of technology transfer throughout the last several decades. The reason why this better technology and better human capital has not benefited Palestinians next door clearly has to do with institutions and with Israel’s policies (blockades but more importantly its understandable unwillingness to invest in the West Bank and Gaza). So it’s much more institutions, human capital and technology with clear historical roots rather than some sort of Palestinian or Arabic culture holding these places back.”
The parallels between the Israeli/Palestinian situation and the United States/African-American situation become obvious if one looks close enough. The Israeli’s have had far more resources, both in the social capital of their people and the assistance received from the United States, than the Palestinians have had access to; just as the more numerous white American citizens have been the beneficiaries of more financial assistance and accumulated social capital than black Americans. Over time, these resources become cumulative and the effect is that one group ends of being greatly advantaged in a head-to-head match up with the other group.
This is not to say that there are not elements of African-American culture, elements which many black people accept and propagate, that need to be changed. This is to say that culture and subsequent success do not materialize out of thin air; history has happened, money has changed hands, and the situation that Israeli’s and the Palestinians now find themselves in is a result of decades of geopolitical maneuvers. In short: the history of the Palestinian/Israeli situation is complex. And Mitt Romney’s pat answer that the culture of the Israeli’s is somehow superior does not do the situation justice as an adequate explanation for the current state of comparison between Israel and Palestine.
Was Mitt Romney being racist when he alluded to a supposedly superior Israeli culture? I don’t know. But it does appear that Mitt was at the least uninformed and insensitive–two qualities that the Politician-In-Chief of America probably shouldn’t have.