Mitt Romney went to Jerusalem and, depending upon whom one asks, spoke the truth with clarity, or promulgated racist lies about Palestinians. As is often the case, neither of those simplistic analyses is correct. Of course, this was Jerusalem, so it’s not at all surprising, especially to one who lived there for years and continues to love the city deeply.
Jerusalem has confounded simplistic analyses for millennia. It’s a city whose very name, in Hebrew at least, suggests that it is a place in which everything can be found. It’s so true. Jerusalem is a great spiritual mirror in which people have found, and continue to find, whatever they are looking for, and that is exactly what happened to Romney, those who have defended his remarks and those who have attacked them.
Perhaps most disturbing, especially for anyone who genuinely desires durable peace for Jerusalem and for the region, and is smart enough to appreciate that most current thinking on either side will not get us there, is that if one cannot see how Romney was both right and wrong, peace is very far off indeed.
Can anyone seriously suggest that larger cultural forces are not always significant factors in how individuals are likely to function in specific communities? Can anyone deny that questions about Palestinian economic and political culture have been so serious as to create real support, even among otherwise secular Palestinians, for Islamist groups whom they hoped would reform the culture in positive ways?
Can anyone seriously doubt that no matter how unequal the two communities opportunities may be in many respects, that Palestinians could have done more to create economic success over the past half century? Romney was right to raise those questions, and challenge Palestinians to rise to the challenge of meeting them better than they have. Of course, he was also dead wrong for focusing on that alone, especially because in certain cultural ways, Palestinians and Israelis are remarkably alike, meaning that more is involved here than broad claims about any people’s culture.
In fact, Palestinians consistently rank at or near the top of the most educated and most successful Arab communities in the world, especially when they go abroad. At the very least, this suggests that the political reality of statelessness and the significant power differential that exists between Israelis and Palestinians cannot be ignored in offering any thoughts about the relative success of these two peoples.
From Jordan to Brazil to the grocers I recently visited in Haiti, Palestinians are all at the very top of both local and international business development, to say nothing of their rapid and successful integration into the fabric of the United States. So, if this is about culture, then the definition of that culture will have to be wider than Romney’s comments seemed to suggest.
I appreciate the candidate’s candor, and actually give him an “A” for that part of his “work” in the Middle East. And for those who are uncomfortable with what he had to say, you are probably the ones who need to hear it the most. Unfortunately, were his comments submitted as his final, Romney would have to settle for an ‘incomplete’ at best – having not seen as big a picture as is required in order to lead the way toward a new Middle East.
Jerusalem is a funny place that way -- often promising radical insight but almost as often simply offering excuses to continue in old ways, long past when those ways continue to serve us well. It’s something which Romney, those who loved his words and those who hated them should all remember.