Mitt Romney, under fire for suggesting to a group of donors that culture explains the economic disparities between Israelis and Palestinians, has been blaming the media for micharacterizing his remarks. This morning, he continued pushing back, insisting on Fox News that he hadn’t criticized Palestinian culture.
But in his 2010 book, No Apology, Romney made almost precisely the same point about Israelis and Palestinians, even using the same language: “culture makes all the difference.” Romney’s previous making of this point was caught by my Post colleague Scott Wilson, who talked about it in his story today on Romney’s trip abroad.
In chapter 10 of No Apology, Romney writes of his travels:
I wondered how such vast differences could exist between countries that were literally next door to each other. How could Americans be so rich and Mexicans so poor? How could Israelis have created a highly developed, technology-based economy while their Palestinian neighbors had not yet even begun to move to an industrial economy? As I traveled to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South American, and to both halves of Europe that had previously been divided by the Iron Curtain, I discovered that the prosperity gap is really a canyon. Why is that?
After discussing Jared Diamond’s book, Guns Germs and Steel, Romney went on to answer his own question with a very similar reference to culture, and approvingly quoted Harvard Professor David Landes’ book making that case:
Harvard professor David Landes’s Wealth and Poverty of Nations adds crucial insight as to why some nations prosper and others do not. His examination concludes that “culture makes all the difference,” not only when it comes to understanding why great civilizations failed in the past, as described earlier, but also in explaining why differences between nations exist today. What people believe, value, strive for, and sacrifice for profoundly shape the nature of their society and affect its prosperity and security. So while America’s abundant natural resources certainly facilitated its ascent, it is America’s culture that enabled the nation to become and remain the most powerful and beneficent country in the history of humankind.
This is very similar to the Romney remarks from the other day that sparked the controversy; in them, Romney compared the GDP per capita among Israelis and Palestinians, and said, “culture makes all the difference.”
Romney supporters have argued that his larger point here is right. And in fairness to Romney, he is claiming that this was not meant as an insult to Palestinian culture, as Palestinian leaders have charged. He said that on Fox News this morning. But Romney’s remarks are controversial not just because of the notion that he may have criticized Palestinina culture. They’re also controversial to critics because, in ascribing the Israeli-Palestinian economic disparities to cultural differences, he’s not allowing for the role of the occupation in helping to cause them.