In some of the articles covering the visit to Israel by the presumptive Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Israeli and international media suggested that Romney suggested (yes, lots of suggestions happening here) Israeli culture was somehow superior to Palestinian culture.
I read and read and re-read the articles, including the one to which I linked above by Barak Ravid of Israel’s publication Haaretz, waiting for a quote proving that these were Romney’s comments. However all I found was a stretch of the imagination in an apparent jab against Romney (who I imagine won’t be getting Haaretz‘s endorsement any time soon). Ravid and others, including the Washington Post and the Associated Press, did include the usual comments-of-outrage provided by the resigned-then-reinstated-then-resigned-then-reinstated chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who does not miss an opportunity to voice his indignation when prodded by journalists.
Romney is quoted as saying:
As you come here and you see the GDP [gross domestic product] per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality. … Culture makes all the difference. 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.
Ravid notes that Romney cited “an innovative business climate.” This could be because Romney’s top foreign policy advisor is Dan Senor, author of “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.” Senor is also a former Bush administration official and the brother of the head of AIPAC’s Jerusalem office, Wendy Senor.
I feel no need to defend Romney nor his overseas blunders, which +972’s Mairav Zonszein intelligently points out. But I do feel the need to protect accuracy. And articles like these fail to include support for the accusations against Romney. They are based solely on the interpretations of his words, or as they are being called, his “suggestions.” In my opinion, that makes them either incomplete or inaccurate, and that has consequences. It can, for example, snowball in a flurry of rhetoric, which now includes reaction from China and Iran.
In the Haaretz article, Ravid rightly notes that previous U.S. presidents Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and George W. Bush, a Republican, mentioned moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but failed to follow through during their time in office. (This is largely a cost-benefit analysis, according to Washington insiders. A presidential candidate has a lot to gain by making such promises, but a president has a lot to lose by actually going through with them.) However, Ravid failed to remind readers that then-Senator Barack Obama, a Democrat who in 2008 sought widespread Jewish American support for his presidential candidacy, said (not suggested, but actually said) that “Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital, and it must remain undivided.”
Haaretz covered that story back in 2008, as did other media. Haaretz should have cross-referenced that article in an effort to better balance in its approach to Romney and his opponent, the incumbent. Also, I would imagine if asked again now, President Obama might say that his views have “evolved.”
Additionally, Romney’s comments, as I read them, about a culture of business innovation in Israel do not suggest cultural superiority any more so than this week’s article in The Economist about a lack of growth in Europe. The Economist argues this is due to Europe lacking a culture of rewarding entrepreneurship that is found in the United States. But no one accused The Economist of suggesting a European cultural inferiority.
Perhaps Romney is ignorant of the economic implications of occupation in the Palestinian territories. If is the case, then CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer should have done more to ask him those questions rather than the same mundane Q&A we have heard for years. But that lack of knowledge, in my opinion, does not justify putting words in Romney’s mouth. Romney has enough words of his own coming out of his mouth that merit criticism without “suggesting” additional ones.