(RNS) Mitt Romney made history on Monday. In a single speech from Jerusalem, he proved beyond a reasonable doubt that to qualify to be a U.S. presidential candidate one needs precious little understanding of history, economics, or reality. Romney has just enough to be dangerous.
With no sense of the impediments Palestinians labor under, Romney compared Israel’s economic success to that of its Palestinian neighbors and claimed the discrepancy was due to “cultural” differences and the “hand of providence.” Such blatantly racist and bigoted references to the conflicting parties are only occasionally rivaled by Israel’s most right-wing politicians.
Given Palestine is part and parcel of an Arab culture that was the cradle of civilization, is home to the oldest cities in the world, and provided humanity with significant contributions towards the development of many “modern” sciences, such as physics, chemistry, medicine, mathematics and astronomy, one can only assume Romney sees no value in any of these – or is entirely ignorant of them. Instead, he views Israel as the “miracle,” a 64-year-old country that was built on the ruins and ashes of the indigenous Palestinians, many of whom refuse to submit to a continuing campaign of slow – and sometimes not so slow – removal from the land.
The likely GOP presidential nominee also overlooked the fact that the Arab world was home to the world’s three great monotheistic religions – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism – long before any modern state of Israel was even conceived.
As if these racist remarks were not enough, Romney uttered the magic conceptual ingredient, God. He said that he is “overwhelmingly impressed with the hand of providence (and how Israelis) are able to build and accomplish things that could only be done by a species created in the image of God.” This perverted reference seems to indicate that others, like Palestinians or even his own people, Americans, are of a lesser “species,” unable to match Israeli accomplishments.
Romney also praised Israel’s economic accomplishments while bashing the Palestinians’. The presidential candidate totally ignored the principal reason for the huge discrepancy between the Israeli and Palestinian economies: Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territory and total micromanagement of that economy. I suspect Bain Capital would not have succeeded had the Israeli government restrained its every effort. Furthermore, Israel’s economy is subsidized with over $3 billion in U.S. military aid every year. That military aid helps repress Palestinians.
Over the years, not only has Israel prohibited the emergence of a new Palestinian economy – it has structurally and systematically made certain that even the buds of such a productive economy would never see the light of day. Anyone who scratches the surface of all the political spin can see for themselves what the World Bank now repeats: that Israel's “apparatus of control” has “become more sophisticated and effective in its ability to interfere in and affect every aspect of Palestinian life, including job opportunities, work, and earnings … (turning) the West Bank into a fragmented set of social and economic islands or enclaves cut off from one another.” Besieged Gaza is in far worse shape than the West Bank. The International Monetary Fund and the European Union are making similar points.
Given that so many respected international organizations and analysts see reality for what it is, the question is what is being done about it. For Romney the answer to the Palestinians is crystal clear: Give up. After all, in his view Palestinians are “culturally” defective and God is on the other side.
As an American, before even speaking as a Palestinian, Romney scares me – seriously scares me. President Obama may have failed the Middle East in his first term as he picked up the pieces of eight years of damage caused by George W. Bush’s administration, but Romney has exposed his extraordinary American ignorance in the land of the prophets.
(Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business development consultant from the West Bank city of Al-Bireh. He blogs at http://www.epalestine.com.)