As Mitt Romney returns from his overseas kerfuffle, replete with Olympic-sized insults, profane media rebuttals, and an ethnically charged stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the only international group of people that seems to still be unoffended by the GOP contender’s various verbal miscues is the one that should perhaps be offended the most: Jews.
While attending a fundraiser in Jerusalemon on Monday, Romney remarked before a local audience that Israeli, and presumably Jewish, culture could be attributed for separating the economic wheat from the chaff when examining the fiscal disparities that exist between Israeli-and Palestinian-controlled lands.
At first glance, the insult, of course, goes to the Palestinians, a group of people who have suffered much from the economic and political constraints levied upon them by the Israeli government. Presumably, if the Palestinians would choose to lift themselves up by the power of their own bootstraps, then the economic doldrums in which they currently find themselves would just disappear.
But a deeper probing of Romney’s reasoning reveals the ugly head of anti-Semitism’s more-than-500-year-old history, a history that says all Jews are miserly, money-grubbing rich folks and that it is has been through thrift and conniving that they have risen to the absolute apex of world financial power.
Romney didn’t say all of that, of course, but it is the potential implication of the above-mentioned stereotypes that is troubling. His remark about Jewish culture seems to be born out of the same nonsensical ideas that lead many to assume that all black males are adroit at playing basketball or that Asians, without fail, are all potential candidates for a Ph.D. in mathematics.
On the surface, some of these stereotypes might not seem so bad and could be thought to be positive in nature. After all, a trip through just about any inner-city neighborhood during the summer months will reveal black and Hispanic males hoopin’ it up on the blacktop, and high math test scores in America and the degree programs that require them are dominated by Asians.
But just as we are all familiar with the kind of prejudice that results in setting one’s sights particularly low for any group of people, we should also be aware of and guard against assumptions, no matter how benign, that intend to elevate their performance to unrealistic levels. One might call it “the soft bigotry of high expectations” or just plain old-fashioned racism.
But no matter what moniker is applied to this widespread phenomenon, it is important to realize that our supposedly positive stereotypes of other groups cannot thrive without their more negative counterparts because each exists on either side of a coin called racial prejudice.
Prejudice has produced the notion that Black men are all Michael Jordans in waiting, but that one shouldn’t expect them to be able to count to three, let alone pursue a career in math or the sciences; and prejudice has given way to the idea that Asians are all skilled numericists, but that Jeremy Lin isn’t deserving of the opportunity to go hard inside the paint.
Romney’s ideas about Israeli culture, not to mention the political realities on the ground, are equally misguided. One cannot hold fast to positive affirmations about a certain group and fail to connect them to the negative ideas that gave birth to the favorable concepts in the first place.
If Jewish people are to be regarded for being fiscally minded, then they must also be derided for the financial mishaps that have gripped Wall Street of late. If Jews are to be lauded for being good business executives, then they must also be taken to task for recent corporate excesses.
Who are the Jews? Are they the likes of Mark Zuckerberg or Alan Greenspan? Or are they more like Michael Bloomberg or Bernie Maddoff.
The answer, of course, is that each of the men listed fits a popular image, for better or for worse, of Jews in his own way. It is high time that we end the typecasting of Jews, blacks, Asians and all others; and what better time to start than this year’s presidential campaign?
“If not now,” to use a well-worn Jewish expression, “when?”