Mitt Romney didn’t exactly emerge from a major league field of contenders when he clinched the Republican nomination for president—he was, essentially, the least worst in a comical field of dingbats. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his used-car-salesman persona wasn’t ready for prime time as he set out to break his statesman cherry on the world stage.
And yes, it was unfortunately predictable that his Israel visit would yield a racist anti-Palestinian or anti-Arab sound bite. Think red meat to keep the xenophobes on the campaign bus. But an anti-Semitic bellow in Jerusalem? Bishop or Governor Mitt Romney is beginning to prove as entertaining, in a morbid sort of way, as Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, or Rick Santorum.
In slightly more than one breath, Romney managed to disparage Palestinians, Jews, and Mexicans. The incident happened at a fund raising stop, which is problematic in and of itself, with Romney brazenly soliciting campaign funds overseas. Speaking to a group of right-wing Israeli and American Jews, Romney observed that there’s “something very unusual about the people of this place.”
That unusual something, he surmised, set the Jews of Israel apart from their Palestinian neighbors. More to the point, he explained, “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.” That “culture,” that “something,” he explained, was responsible for Israeli Jews being more economically successful, as in richer, than their Palestinian neighbors, showing “a stark difference in income.”
For the record, the difference is almost 11 to one.
Most readers by now are probably somewhat familiar with this quote, as the global media quickly reported it, while whispering, usually in a vacuous passive voice, that the comment is “seen by some” as racist. That’s like saying the sky is seen by some as blue. The damn sky is blue. And the argument that Jews possess some sort of cultural superiority, or weird juju, that makes them wealthier than Palestinians, is a racist notion on many levels. The idea that cultural identity gives one person or group an innate superiority or privilege over other groups is central to the definition of racism. This is especially true in this case, where Romney specifically singles out economic privilege. Historically racism has always been used to defend such social inequality, with the African slave trade providing one of the most grotesque examples of such uses of racism to excuse economic privilege of one group over another.
Regarding Palestinian wealth versus Israeli wealth, there are clear factors other than culture that Romney seems to have missed—such as the 45-year Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and control of Palestinian borders. To write off 45 years of history and military occupation, and substitute culture as an explanation for Palestinian poverty, smacks of racism. That’s Racism with a big “R.” Any journalist with a backbone should realize that it’s okay to refer to a racist comment as a racist comment without having to reference the accusation to vague ethereal forces.
Lost in what little discussion there has been of Romney’s racism against the Palestinians was the underlying anti-Semitism in his comment. That Romney managed to voice his racist beliefs about both Palestinians and Jews in one breath should have been the main headline for this story. Unfortunately, the “Jew as Shylock” trope is still such a common meme in popular culture as to have been invisible to almost every journalist that initially covered this story. That’s scary. Hence, there was almost no mention of anti-Semitism during the crucial first 12 hours of this story’s release. This despite the fact that the anti-Semitic stereotype of a money-grubbing Jewish “culture” has historically been central to most anti-Semitism and fundamental in the build-up to the European Jewish holocaust.
The reality on the ground in Israel would be a shocker to Romney, had he any real conception of where he was and what was going on around him. Israelis, including the Jews that make up most of Israel’s population, while wealthier than Palestinians suffering under occupation, are suffering many of the same problems as poor, working-class, and struggling middle-class Americans. In the weeks prior to Romney’s visit, Israel has been shaken with massive protest marches against that nation’s growing social inequality, and the inability of its residents to make ends meet.
Just like the Israel-Palestine conflict, Jews are just more complicated, Mr. Romney, than you appear to think.
Romney, after showcasing his ignorance about Jews and Palestinians, couldn’t just walk off the stage without completing a racist trifecta. Hence, he qualified his comment about “culture” explaining the wealth gap between Palestinians and Israelis by arguing that a similar situation exists between the United States and Mexico, and for good measure, he added, between industrialized Chile and Ecuador.
Statesman Romney is moving fast in his debut on the international stage, just days into his trip, and he’s already creating an Axis of Inferior Culture and a Jewish American Chilean cabal.
Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College. His previous columns are at artvoice.com, archived at www.mediastudy.com, and available globally through syndication.
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