As the presidential campaign heats up, so does the effort by politicians to pander to voters. This, of course, means the Republican Party is in high-gear trying to sway overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning Jewish-American voters to their side.
At a Monday breakfast fundraiser in Jerusalem, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney took his chances, touting his host country’s accomplishments, citing the importance of “culture” to its economic prosperity and contrasting Israel’s GDP to that of neighboring Palestine.
“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita for instance in Israel, which is about $21,000, and you 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 a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality,” Romney said.
Referencing the book Wealth and Poverty of Nations, Romney said “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."
Never mind the fact that the West Bank has been occupied since 1967 and that mobility is severely limited by checkpoints and a winding Israeli wall built to discourage violent terrorist attacks committed by a minority of Palestinians. Forget for a second that income discrepancies between the two countries are actually much greater than the figures Romney quotes.
What is more problematic than Romney’s lack of insight or inaccuracy is his lack of tact. His defenders can complain that political correctness has gone too far. Yet for a presidential contender traveling abroad to be overly-politically correct is advisable, if not sometimes necessary.
Celebrating another nation’s prosperity is a friendly gesture. But raising $1 million while comparing their wealth to the poverty of their occupied neighbors less than 100 miles away is insensitive. And arguing that culture is a key element of a country’s economic success at that very same fundraiser is a surefire way to stir the pot, especially if you are discussing the Israeli-Palestinian case. It doesn’t take a political scientist to realize this.
Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat did not take kindly to Romney’s remarks, saying: “It seems to me this man [Romney] lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people … I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.”
It should not come as any surprise that a man accused of being so out of touch in his native land should think nothing of playing economic-historian on foreign soil. But that shouldn’t make it any less alarming.