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Culture Is Not Race, Mr. Erekat



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As most things American eventually do, injudicious use of the R-word is spreading around the world. Per CNN:

A Palestinian leader blasted Mitt Romney’s statements at a high-dollar fund-raiser in Jerusalem as “racist” Monday after Romney made a comparison between the per capita GDPs of Israel and Palestinian-controlled areas. 

Romney, speaking to a group that included Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, said higher personal wealth among citizens in Israel was an indication that the country was accomplishing something its neighbors were not.

Pray, what did Mitt Romney say to be thus tarred and feathered?

“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and 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 such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” Romney said.

Citing the book “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” Romney detailed his interpretation of author David Landes’ thesis.

“He says if you can learn anything from the economic history of the world, it’s this: culture makes all the difference. 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,” Romney said.

In order for this to be a racist statement, Romney would have to have attributed the successes of Israel to its racial makeup and to have argued that the reason the Palestinians were on the losing end of a “dramatically stark difference in economic vitality” was because they were genetically predisposed to lose. He didn’t do anything of the sort. In fact, he went out of his way to forward a thesis that relied upon cultural and institutional differences and tied them to varying levels of accomplishment. He cited (not entirely favorably) Jared Diamond’s geographically based Guns, Germs, and Steel theory, and also (more favorably) David S. Landes’s book, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, both of which explicitly reject race as a cause of success or failure, and focus instead on culture, climate, geography, historical circumstance, or a combination of all four. As Romney argued,

“You look at Israel and you say you have a hard time suggesting that all of the natural resources on the land could account for all the accomplishment of the people here.”

Quite. Contra the fashionable conceits of our post-modern zeitgeist, some cultures are in fact better than others. (The Left selectively knows this, too: Just ask a progressive about how women and homosexuals are treated in Saudi Arabia and their cultural equivalence falls apart in a matter of seconds.) Cultural superiority has to do with more than just the scale of the GDP that it engenders, but GDP is often an indicator of a society’s virtues. This critique is not new, especially in this setting — its basic message formed the basis of the 1947 U.N. reports from Mandatory Palestine — but why read the argument when you can just throw around the race card and play the victim?#more#

“This man, before he came here, he should have got some education about Israelis, Palestinians, and the region,” Erekat said. “The Romney statements on Jerusalem and the racist statements about the Israeli culture being superior to the Palestinian culture reflect someone who needs to be educated, who needs knowledge. His statements are serving those extremist in the region now, and will serve extremists unfortunately.”

This is a bizarre statement. At no point did Romney so much as hint that the Israeli “race” was superior to the Palestinian “race.” Instead he very clearly made a cultural case for their differing outcomes; outcomes that are actually far more stark than Romney suggested, according to the Associated Press:

The economic disparity between the Israelis and the Palestinians is actually much greater than Romney stated. Israel had a per capita gross domestic product of about $31,000 in 2011, while the West Bank and Gaza had a per capita GDP of just over $1,500, according to the World Bank.

Still, this hasn’t stopped Think Progress from impressing some poor intern onto the faux-outrage bandwagon. Its complaint? That ”Romney incensed Palestinians.” Well, one might ask: So what? Ronald Reagan incensed many in the Soviet Union when he described their system as an “evil empire” and invited them to tear down the Berlin Wall. It doesn’t mean that he was wrong. Likewise, many Indians were incensed by British general Charles Napier who took a stand against the Hindu practice of “sati,” an ancient practice by which widows were routinely burned alive on the funeral pyres of their husbands. When banning the practice, Napier told the incensed locals:

“You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well! We also have a custom. When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks, and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre. Beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”

India doesn’t have sati any more and the Berlin Wall is no longer there — and those who were afflicted by the two things are better off for it.

Some cultures are demonstrably better than others and it is often a positive thing for those who are faltering to have this pointed out to them. Mitt Romney knows a thing or two about success. Why should he not share this with those whose culture is failing them? American virtues would certainly be a better addition to Palestinian life than would fatuous employment of the R-word.



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