I know the Republicans don't like what they see as Obama pandering to the Muslim world. But I'm not sure they really wanted Mitt Romney to offer the Muslim world a big F U either.
JERUSALEM -- Mitt Romney told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who suggested his comments were racist and out of touch with the realities of the Middle East. Romney's campaign later said his remarks were mischaracterized.
"As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, 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," the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who ate breakfast at the luxurious King David Hotel.
Romney said some economic histories have theorized that "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," Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the "hand of providence." He said similar disparity exists between neighboring countries, like Mexico and the United States.
While speaking to U.S. audiences, Romney often highlights culture as a key to economic success and emphasizes the power of the American entrepreneurial spirit compared to the values of other countries. But his decision to highlight cultural differences in a region where such differences have helped fuel violence for generations raises new questions about the former businessman's diplomacy skills.
As he has at home, Romney in Jerusalem cited a book titled, "Guns, Germs and Steel," that suggests the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there.
"And you look at Israel and you say you have a hard time suggesting that all of the natural resources on the land could account for all the accomplishment of the people here," Romney said, before citing another book, "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations," by former Harvard professor David Landes. This book, Romney said in Jerusalem, concludes that "if you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it's this: Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference."
The economic disparity between the Israelis and the Palestinians is actually much greater than Romney stated. Israel had a per capita gross domestic product of about $31,000 in 2011, while the West Bank and Gaza had a per capita GDP of just over $1,500, according to the World Bank.
Got that? The reason the Palestinians are poorer than the Israeli Jews is that their culture is just not as good. It has nothing to do with the fact that the Jews took over their land and forced them to live in what is basically a refugee camp.
Someone needs to tell Mitt that it is possible to pay someone a compliment without having to piss on someone else.
Is Mitt's idea about some cultures being very geared to certain kinds of success completely wrong? Actually, no. Jewish culture places a high value on success through education, and that is a significant factor in why Israel is an extremely successful nation, and why a significant proportion of the world's pre-eminent scientists and thinkers have been Jewish. You can say the same about Chinese culture, illustrated by the economic dominance of the ethnic Chinese throughout South East Asia.
Is the culture of Israeli Jews better disposed to economic vitality and an innovative business climate than that of the Palestinians? Perhaps. But it is completely absurd to even talk about that without mentioning the primary factor that holds Palestinians back, which is that they live under Israeli occupation.
But that shouldn't be news to anybody. It can't have escaped Mitt's notice that the Palestinian situation is kind of a big thing. Anyone who even occasionally watches the news would know that the conditions Palestinians are forced to live under are not exactly optimal for a thriving business climate.
But perhaps it is not too surprising that Mitt thinks this way, as it is merely a logical extension of his particular brand of right-wing thinking. Mitt is an insanely wealthy individual, and in his own little universe, he got that way because of his sheer awesomeness. If someone is not wealthy, it's clearly because they just aren't smart enough, or haven't tried hard enough.
People don't dislike Mitt Romney because he is rich; anyone who is in a position to run for President of the United States is going to be very rich by the standards of the average person. People dislike him because he is a virtual caricature of a wealthy elitist, who has no idea what everyday life looks like for the average person who was not born into privilege.
In the mind of Mitt Romney, Palestinians feel aggrieved towards Israelis not because they are an oppressed and dispossessed people; rather, it's because the Palestinians are just playa-haters.