Romney's war on culture
Published Thursday 02/08/2012 (updated) 06/08/2012 10:20
US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney touches the stones
of the Western Wall in Jerusalem on July 29. (Reuters/Nir Elias)
The presumptive Republican nominee for US president, Mitt Romney, gave himself the authority to declare a cultural war in West Jerusalem this week.
As part of his efforts to woo wealthy Jewish donors, he declared that nations are better off because of culture and indirectly suggested that Israel be added to America’s exceptionalism theory.
Using incorrect per capita data, Romney told his donors, which included the right-wing funder Sheldon Adelson who said he would donate $100 million to oust President Barack Obama, that Israelis are superior to Palestinians because of their "culture". It was not clear whether he was referring to Jewish culture or, as his aides later said, he was referring to the culture of capitalism.
Romney, who did not mention the word 'Palestinian' in his speech, nor visited the occupied territories during his trip, did not recognize what any 10th grader of international politics knows: the occupation is preventing Palestinians from attaining their full potential, cultural or otherwise. Using a famous US election phrase, it is the occupation, stupid.
To stress the point, The New York Times bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, who has facts and figures about the devastating effect of the Israeli occupation on the West Bank and the siege on Gaza, quoted from a source that is irrefutable in American eyes: the CIA handbook.
Of course, for millions of Palestinians there is no need to refer to a handbook to know the reason for the discrepancy. Not only does Israel control the movement of people and goods to and from the occupied territories, it also controls the air. While Palestinian cellular companies are restricted to the West Bank, Israeli cellular companies have antennae all over the West Bank, providing service to anyone who buys them, and Israeli companies do not pay any license fee to the PA.
It also controls the aquifers. Water availability, which is controlled by Israel, is perhaps the best tangible proof that it is the occupation, rather than any cultural attitude, that results in the difference in individual habits.
Israel allocates many times more water to each settler than to the average Palestinian in the West Bank, the head of the Palestinian Water Authority said Sunday. At a press conference in Ramallah, Shaddad Attili said Palestinians receive 105 million cubic meters of water, less than the amount allocated in the 1995 Oslo Accords and around a quarter of the 400 million cubic meters needed according to international standards.
Insulting Palestinians is certainly not something that Romney and his closest aides would need to explain or justify. In fact, it seems to fit their electoral goal of reducing Obama’s Jewish support and energizing right-wing Christian support for the Mormon nominee.
But a quick look at the reactions to an AP report from Jerusalem might make the GOP nominee rethink its one-sided policies. The dispatch, titled "Mitt Romney comments at fundraiser outrage Palestinians", received over 6,500 shares on Facebook and over 14,000 comments on the popular US website Huffington Post.
Commentators not only critiqued the Republican nominee’s many gaffes, it also talked about what would happen if his cultural war were applied to sections of American cities that are not developed or other countries in the world.
"How about taking examples that eliminate the variables of different nationalities and have more actual relevance, almost as good as a lab experiment, like North Korea and South Korea or West and East Germany before the wall fell? There presumably are the same people, Koreans or Germans, but artificially separated by politics. There, clearly demonstrating for all, are the differences that the politics of isolation, lack of access to Western wealth and resources, internal repression can do to a people," one comment said.
"Israel’s relationship to Palestine is that of conqueror to conquered, with the Palestinians, a beleaguered people at the mercy of their overlords who aren’t content with isolating them in the Gaza, but also want to colonize it themselves," said another.
Of course, it was not unexpected that someone would point out the fact that a number of countries in the Middle East have per capita rates that are much greater than those of Israel. One commentator said: "Then I guess the citizens from Kuwait and Qatar are … superior."
The US media and pundits repeatedly talk about how badly Romney wants to be president, that he would do or say anything to reach the White House. Seekers of America’s highest office always had to visit Israel as part of their election campaign, and pandering to a certain constituency is certainly not restricted to any one party.
However, it is always important to remind US presidential candidates that people around the world, and certainly in Israel and Palestine, are not political pawns nor the subject of clever statements.
The super rich Romney might want to start his own cultural war in the US, but in the Middle East, there are enough wars, conflicts and bloodshed for the people to need yet another battle.
Daoud Kuttab is a journalist and former professor of journalism at Princeton University.