Early August saw Romney depart the London Olympics for the next section of his “foreign policy tour”: Israel. There, differentiating himself from his more detached opponent, he reaffirmed American affinity for the region’s one free country. In looking over Jerusalem and “the accomplishments of the people of this nation”, he stated, “I recognise the power of… culture…” Further, he underlined his point by citing the disparity between Israeli and Palestinian GDP.
Naturally, this prompted the usual outpourings of contrived indignation. Note Rachel Shabi’s intellectual acrobatics in the Guardian. Somehow, she finds enough ground to stridently decry Romney’s “standard-issue, superiority-complex racism”. Saeb Erekat, (the ‘acceptable face’ of PLO terrorism turned senior Palestinian Authority figure), similarly played the racism card, observing also Romney’s supposed ignorance about the region.
…Romney’s detractors were quick to use Israeli military measures as explanations…
Certainly, Romney’s speech was flawed. The aforementioned GDP references were incorrect, for instance, under-rating Israel’s figures and overestimating those of Palestine. Equally, Romney’s implication that Israeli prosperity was due to providence doubtless raised many sceptical eyebrows. Nevertheless, the hysterical cries of racism and ignorance are, essentially, unfounded. As Romney himself underlined, “Like the United States, the State of Israel has a culture that is based upon individual freedom and the rule of law… [Israel] has embraced liberty, both political and economic.” Is this ignorance, let alone racism?
To focus on the specifics of Romney’s speech, however, is to lose sight of the broader issue: Israel’s prosperity compared to the general malaise of the Middle East. Purely regarding Palestine, Romney’s detractors were quick to use Israeli military measures as explanations for Gaza’s paltry $1,250 GDP per capita. As satisfying an explanation Shabi et al might find this, however, it is not hard to find it wanting.
…anti-Semitic agitation to retain influence…
It overlooks, for instance, the $200 million annual average in US Aid to the UN Relief & Works Agency for Palestine Refugees since 2007 – or the $4 billion total since the establishment of Palestinian self-rule. It overlooks how, in 2011 alone, the better part of $1 billion dollars were pledged to UNRWA. More importantly, it overlooks what the Middle East Media Research Institute calls “a deterioration in public order and the rule of law”, in the years following Hamas’s taking power in Gaza – to the extent that Palestinian leadership descended into infighting over absurd conspiracy accusations. Indeed, it ignores that Hamas relies on anti-Semitic agitation to retain influence, or else paper over how it arbitrarily seized funds from Gazan banks in 2010 when the organisation ran into liquidity problems.
…both are flooded with oil revenue.
When Romney talks about culture, then, he is not necessarily making so radical a point as some might say. Even despite colossal sums of aid, how can an economy thrive when its governance is so cavalier, promoting racial collectivism with violent tones while extorting its own people with little care for their rights? This cultural-political situation must surely rank ahead of all else.
Contrast this to Israel, with near-$30,000 GDP per capita, a banking system resilient despite global contraction and an economy which even in 2010-2011 enjoyed “a historic low” of unemployment. Consider further that Israel’s GDP per capita is surpassed in all of the Middle East only by Qatar and the UAE,of which only the latter is barely more populous than Israel – and both are flooded with oil revenue. Shabi attributes this to lavish US aid and a captive market in Palestine. Clearly, however, aid failed to deliver that prosperity in Gaza; one would imagine if Palestine is so poor, it could hardly present any great advantage to Israel’s growth.
…racism has not the slightest involvement in this.
Moreover, considering the lack of Israeli blockades in, say, Iran, why do we see such economic disparity? In short, despite all its problems, Israel’s political culture of individual freedom – politically, socially, economically – has helped deliver a standard of living almost unmatched across the region. The economic facts speak for themselves and, contrary to Rachel Shabi, racism has not the slightest involvement in this. Rather, economic reality has given us another inkling of the indispensable value of freedom; the world would do well to pay attention.