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Romney visit: Hitting the 'Palestinian punching bag' again

Over the years, Israeli politicians have used various disparaging remarks to describe Palestinians. During this U.S. election, it looks like American politicians have adopted the same tactic, as recently shown during Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel.

By Amer Zahr

Romney and Netanyahu July 29, 2012 (Avi Ochayon/GPO)

Look, as a Palestinian, I’m used to hearing racist epithets thrown my way.  I’ve heard Abba Eban say that Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”  I’ve heard Menachem Begin call us “beasts.”  Ehud Barak called us “crocodiles.”  Ariel Sharon once said he would “kill as many Arabs as necessary.”  Benjamin Netanyahu labels us a “demographic threat.”  Famously, Golda Meir once even told the world “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people… It’s not as if we came and threw them out… They didn’t exist.”

In the past few years, this trend has made its way firmly into American politics. Of course, we’ve had to constantly deal with American politicians speaking of Israeli and American “shared values” and Israel’s special status as the Middle East’s “lone democracy.”  Back when Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he was accused of having a “Palestinian friend.” Obama confirmed the fact, but urged reporters to not make him a victim of “guilt by association.”

I started to think that we Palestinians were somehow scary. I was worried we would end up in haunted houses right next to the ghosts and zombies. Wait, forget I said that. I don’t want to give anyone any ideas!

In this 2012 presidential race, we are at the forefront again. Last December, Newt Gingrich called us “invented.” I didn’t know exactly how to take that one. There have been many good inventions, like penicillin and seatbelts. But I got the feeling that Gingrich meant we were a bad invention, like the Macarena and Farmville.

At that time, Newt was pleasing his financier, Jewish-American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who had donated millions to his fledgling campaign.  Well, now Newt is gone (kinda), and Mitt Romney is taking his turn to cozy up to Adelson, in hopes of padding his own campaign coffers.

A few days ago, with Adelson in the audience at a $50,000-a-plate breakfast in Jerusalem, Romney hit all the talking points, bashing Iran and speaking of an “undivided Jerusalem.” But like many candidates vying for the backing of Israel’s supporters, he didn’t stop there. He went on to say the large discrepancy between GDPs in Israel and the territories managed by the Palestinian Authority was due to cultural differences and the “hand of providence.” I don’t want to put words in Romney’s idiotic mouth, but it sounds like he was saying Palestinian are bad businessman (because they’re Palestinian) and that God is on Israel’s side.

I don’t know whose side God is on (if he’s taking sides at all), but I can say with some authority that Palestinians are pretty good at business. Aside from building many successful ventures in the West Bank, despite a strangling Israeli occupation that stifles growth and creates a complete dependence on Israeli goods, Palestinians are pretty good when it comes to business dealings of all kinds. I’ve seen my dad buy a car, and trust me, I’m pretty sure the salesman called his mom after the deal was done.

Romney went on to defend his remarks, saying that the main cultural feature that allows an economy to prosper is freedom. He’s probably right about that. And undoubtedly, there’s little to no freedom in the West Bank and Gaza. I wonder if he knows why that is so. It’s almost like he doesn’t watch the news or read any books. We already had one president like that, and it didn’t work out too well. America doesn’t need another illiterate president.

Romney, in a recently published editorial defending his remarks, noted that America had a successful economy because Americans are not “limited by circumstance of birth nor directed by the supposedly informed hand of government.” Well, Palestinians (in both Israel and the occupied territories) are limited by their circumstances, but it’s not our fault. And we are directed by the supposedly informed hand of government. But it’s not our own government.  And that’s not our fault either.

Mr. Romney, you’re right. Freedom is the key. You are free to unequivocally support Israel. You are free to say you would move the US embassy to Jerusalem. You’re free to applaud Israel’s “democracy.” You’re even free to sell yourself to the highest bidder.

But you’re not allowed to be dumb.

Amer Zahr is a Palestinian-American comedian and writer.  He can be reached at amer@amerzahr.com

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    1. Mark

      Let me try and shed some light here. The “Palestinian” people is a 20th century invention. Arabs living in Israel are decendants of recent immigrants from Egypt (Al-Masri), Saudi Arabia (Al-Arabi), Syria (Al-Horani), Turkey (Al-Turqi), Iraq (Al-Baghdadi, Al-Kuwaiti), and many other Arab countries. They immigrated when the Jews arrived, because of the economic boom. Azmi Bishara, a former MK suspected of espionage (he fled Israel, and was never brought to justice) admitted it himself: http://y2u.be/EOqAGbpoDZc.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Moschops

      Let me try and Shed Some Light here. The JEWISH people of Israel are a 20th Century invention. Jews living in Palestine today are decendants of recent immigrants from GERMANY, POLAND, UKRAINE, The RUSSIAS, NEW YORK. They have no genetic connection to the middle east, hence are not real Semites.
      Titus Vespasian destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD for daring to challenge Roman rule. The few surviving Jews were scattered across the Mediterranean or enslaved.

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    3. Janet


      Maybe you didn’t know but from Time Immemorial by Joan Peters has been shown to to be a fake. Palestine in 1850 had about 350,000 inhabitants, 30% of whom lived in 13 towns; roughly 85% were Muslims, 11% were Christians and 4% Jews, this was well before the immigration of Zionist Jews and demographers have state that the rise in Palestinian population from 1850 to 1948 was base on natural population growth not by immigration.Perhaps you didn’t realize it but denying the existence of the Palestinian people is the same as denying the Holocaust.


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    4. Jack

      The millions of palestinians living inside the British mandate, who were those? Not palestinians?
      Seems like something is reversed here with your argument because where did all jews come from that settled in this very region from the early 1900 to 1970s? You are saying that people that have lived for centuries are forbidden to live there while people, many of them coming from europe thousands of miles from the middle east, only have this right.

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    5. Mark, you just implied that people made the holy land their home. In Islam, inspired by Judaism BTW, it is a grave sin to evict people from their homes. It is a violation of “thou shalt not steal” at best. Just evicting anyone from their native lands, whether recent or centuries in the making, is wrong. What would that make of the Mizrahi Jews, or the Rohingya Muslims of Burma, if we must choose to condone Israel’s actions on Arabs?

      I don’t think the God you believe in is the real version of Him, if your religion dictates that, and hurting of civilian who aren’t of your race or religion. Why else would even Jewish human rights groups would be intrigued in following and assisting Palestinians and Arab Jews? Unlike Jews or Christians, we Muslims were taught by the Qur’an NOT to be proud, for Muslims would NOT be the only ones to enter Heaven; it also depends on basic deeds. What’s the use of Hell Fire if none among us are gravely destined to be sinners?

      With all these attitudes, and the so-called “Dahiyah Doctrine” (look it up), the anti version of what Bilal the Ethiopian told Muslim converts before fighting the Meccan Quraish tribe, it’s no surprise that one of Israel’s greatest inventions, “Hamas”, would continue to shoot missiles on Israeli civilians. Don’t you guys reason like adults, rather than school bullies?

      And didn’t they confirm that 1/3 of Palestinians were of Israelite ancestry?

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    6. Jan

      Mark – My Palestinian friend, born in 1947 in Jerusalem, can trace her family in Palestine back at least 500 years. I suspect that there is hardly an Israeli, if any, who can make a similar claim. She is one of thousands of Palestinians whose roots grow back farther than the roots of the hundreds of years old olive trees, trees that the vile settlers are so fond of burning and uprooting.

      There is something deeply and terribly wrong when my friend cannot return to the place of her birth while I, a Jew, can “return” to a land in which I have never lived nor in which I would ever want to live. Israeli policies are sick and they make me sick at heart.

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    7. Piotr Berman

      Israel is not oppressing some abstract group that may have recent or antique “identity” but concrete individuals. When they deny farmers access to their land, demolish homes and other builings, bury wells, encircle villages with walls and barbed wire etc. etc. concrete individuals are affected.

      Does it matter if the oppressors ancestors were in Siberia 2000 years ago or in Palestine? Does it matter if the oppressed had ancestors in Turkey or in Palestine? Oppression is oppression.

      Suppose that a Sudanese government loyalist would argue that there is no nation of Fur (land of the Fur = Darfur) but an amalgamation of very loosely related tribes often mutually hostile? Oppression in Darfur was real.

      One think is certain about cultural superiority: it is at its lowest when it is proudly proclaimed. Actually, the argument is pretty old, and it was always used to the effect that the poor and the “natives” in case of colonies or Ireland are inferior and should defer to their betters (or be subjected to stern measures).

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    8. Aaron

      Well, you *are* a demographic threat. What’s so bad about talking about that? We Jews are a demographic threat, too, to an Arab polity in Palestine. I don’t mind if anyone points that out.
      Same with the “invented people” bit. The Jews are an invented people, too. It’s just that we were invented a few thousand years before you were. Golda Meir was right, AT THE TIME, that there was no Palestinian people, for a reasonable definition of “people.” There is now, though. But for once I gotta agree with Piotr: So what? If Zionism is unjust, it’s not because there was a people here before.
      Also, I think you’re misunderstanding the cultural argument. Whether it’s valid or not, it’s not just about knowing how to bargain at the shuk/souk. It’s great that your father was able to Jew down the car dealer, but that’s not enough to constitute a culture of prosperity. The kind of culture Romney meant depends on trust between citizens, an impartial judiciary, loyalty to the polity as a whole over one’s own kin, and stuff like that.

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    9. Rorr

      When you said somebody was a palestinian before 1948 it meant that he/she was Jewish. Everything the palestinians say or do is in response to Jews. Left to themselves their at a loss.

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    10. Carl

      Could I be the first to point out that this article was hilarious.
      Can I also point out that the ‘I’m more native than you’ argument going on in the comments is so dull and futile, it’s barely even distracting me from doing the job I’m paid to do. Then again, I’d love it if someone actually came out with a killer piece of logic which made the other side go ‘Oh yeah, I don’t feel an attachment to Israel/Palestine now you put it like that: my mistake’

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    11. Jehudah

      Mr. Romney’s visit to Israel and his speech and interviews in front of the David Citadel – named after our king, King David, who set up Jerusalem/Zion as the spiritual and administrative center of the kingdom more than 3,000 years ago, a position which, in Jewish minds, has not changed all of these years – instead of the Dome of the Rock, a site turned important to Islam only in the 7th century after the Muslims conquered Jerusalem, but in a city that even the Muslims have never considered a capital city of any other people or a state, is refreshing.

      His visit also raised question about Mr. Romney’s opponent, such as what is Israel’s capital. The following are two expressions by both the State Department and the White House under the leadership of Mr. Obama that clearly refuse to accept Jerusalem – ANY PART OF IT – as Israel’s capital…


      Isn’t it time we all told Mr. Obama – friends and foes alike – that the capital city of the Jewish people since time immemorial, and of the nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel, since 14 May 1948, is Jerusalem….??!!

      P.S. In the first clip, the Obama’s State Department spokeswoman, clearly, refers to Tel-Aviv as Israel’s capital, although attempting to cover her statement…!!

      Reply to Comment
    12. Danny

      @Mark: Let me try and shed some light here. The “Israeli” people is a 20th century invention. Jews living in Israel are decendants of recent immigrants from Poland (e.g. Benjamin Milikovsky AKA Netanyahu), Russia, Germany, Morocco, Iraq, Iran and, of course – that hotbed of Jewish nationalism and extremism – Brooklyn, NY, as well as many other countries. They immigrated mainly for two reasons: The Ashkenazis originally because of the holocaust, and the Sephardis because of Mossad-led terrorist acts in Arab states to push the Jews to move out (e.g. 1950’s Iraq). David Ben Gurion, a former PM suspected of terrorism and war crimes (he was never brought to justice) admitted it himself and even wrote a book about the true origins of the “Jewish” people (hint – even he knew that the idea that white-skinned people from eastern and northern Europe had any real connection to ancient Israelites was total and utter bullsh*t).

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    13. Piotr Berman

      “The kind of culture Romney meant depends on trust between citizens, an impartial judiciary, loyalty to the polity as a whole over one’s own kin, and stuff like that.”

      To what extend that describes XIX century Britain and USA is somewhat debatable. One can be also curious about a China — if it is an exception, it is not a small exception. It is even more debatable to what extend it describes Israel. Around 1975 someone who either lived or had family in the countries we discussed told me: “In Poland, you can do a lot using “connections”, in Sweden, nothing, in Israel, everything”.

      There exists countries with a combination of graft, “meritocracy” and entrepreneurship that is conducive to economic growth. “Meritocracy” gives a lot of room for “connections” but still keeps total idiots away from positions of large responsibility. One may wonder if USA still has such a good combination.

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    14. Fat Freddy's Cat

      Danny, the fallacies that you pass off as history are astonishing. Not one of your sentences is correct factually. Do you believe them?

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    15. Let me first thank Carl for pointing out that my article was funny 🙂

      I never cease to be amazed by the ongoing mainstream discourse in Israeli society that we Palestinians are some sort of imaginary creatures. You know those beings that were ethnically cleansed in 1948? The ones being discriminated against & harassed at checkpoints? The “demographic threat”? They are not unicorns… they’re actually human beings.

      As someone who lives and breathes being a Palestinian, I can say one thing with authority. Whether some in our community like to admit or not, we all know that whatever solution comes about will include our living side-by-side with Israelis, whether in two states or one. However, I am shocked (or maybe that not shocked) by the still ongoing Israeli talk of “How do we get rid of these people?”

      Israel tried to get rid of us… and is still trying. But it didn’t work. We were about a million in 1948, and now we’re about 5 million in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

      We’re still here, and we’re obviously not going anywhere.

      I encourage all Israelis to come visit Nazareth, Ramallah, and as many Arab neighborhoods in every city as they can. Look at our women! Living with us is not going to be that bad!

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    16. LS

      Rorr, you may know what you are talking about, I certainly don’t. My Jewish relatives (now sadly deceased) who lived in Metulla during the yishuv (for your information that is prior to the formation of the state of Israel) talked about having “Palestinian” friends. I can only believe that your knowledge of the history of the yishuv is greater then mine – and mine is fairly extensive – or that you are talking rubbish. I know which I think it is.

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