By Ben Cohen: Whatever you might think about the conflict between Israel and Palestine, there are certain lines of argument that are completely unacceptable regardless of which side you are supportive of. Mitt Romney has weighed in on the debate with typical insensitivity, and in his recent trip to Israel, outright racism. Not only did Romney refer to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (it isn’t), he sought to dismiss Palestinian territorial claims as irrelevant due to their lack of economic success. The Guardian reports:
Romney drew a comparison between Israel’s economic success and the Palestinians’. “As you come here and you see the GDP 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,” he said.
This is the exact same argument used by the apartheid government in South Africa to justify the theft of the black population’s land, colonial governments throughout European history, the theft of native American land, and the continued colonization of Tibet by China. Occupiers justify taking other people’s land by virtue of their ability to create more wealth than their victims. This would be like me saying to someone with a cheaper house than mine “I’m taking it over because I can afford to put in a luxury kitchen and you can’t”. Romney has always gone on record as supporting hardline Israeli policy with no caveats, and is explicitly condoning the occupation of Palestinian territory with racist colonial ideology.
The Palestinians were rightly disgusted by Romney’s comments:
The Palestinian official Saeb Erekat condemned Romney’s comments. “What is this man doing here? Yesterday, he destroyed negotiations by saying Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and today he is saying Israeli culture is more advanced than Palestinian culture. Isn’t this racism? Israelis and Palestinians have a conflict, but they are people, they are equal, it is not a better culture or advanced culture.
“It’s Israeli occupiers and Palestinians under occupation, and that’s why Palestinians cannot realise their potential,” he said.
Erekat earlier said Romney’s description of Jerusalem as “the capital of Israel” in his speech on Sunday evening was “absolutely unacceptable”
The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is enormously complicated and has been distorted beyond belief, particularly in the US. Generally speaking, I am more sympathetic to the Palestinian predicament given the historic injustice they have been subjected to, but I can also see the other side of the story. And as a person of Jewish descent, I feel it personally when stereotypes or generalizations about Jews are thrown about. I’ve had arguments with Muslim friends where the ‘nature of Jews’ has come up as an explanation for Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. These arguments are unacceptable and racist, and have no place in civilized discourse. It detracts from a very serious topic and cheapens a cause that has severe human consequences. There is simply no need to bring any racial element into the discussion on either side.
Mitt Romney’s speech was designed for his audience back in the US, and he likely won’t care whether he is viewed as a racist or not. He is doing his bit to pander to the pro Israel lobby in America and line up Jewish votes for the election, and just as he is willing to use subtly racist language against African Americans to rally his white base, he is willing to denigrate Palestinians due to their unfortunate economic predicament to get Jewish support. It’s politics at its most grotesque, an increasing speciality of Mitt Romney who seems to know no limits when it comes to sacrificing personal dignity for his Presidential ambitions.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.