Romney the dunce

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is seen on board his charter plane in Tel Aviv, Israel as he travels to Poland, Monday, July 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

For many onlookers around the world, it once would have seemed impossible for a U.S. politician to arise that was more ignorant than former President George W. Bush, but Mitt Romney’s recent international tour seems to have killed these hopes.

Even before the Republican presidential candidate’s current trip, it appeared the ex-governor of Massachusetts was spending most of his time clarifying comments he or his staff had made the previous day.

Romney has managed to offend U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, and much of the British public, for his remarks that London seemed unprepared for the Olympics. But those comments pale in comparison with what he said during his visit to Occupied Jerusalem.

Officially declaring the purpose of the trip as a donor-seeking mission, Romney nevertheless decided to dive headfirst into one of the most sensitive issues of the 20th century, one which continues to shape an entire region, and one which 12 U.S. presidents have tried and failed to reach any semblance of a breakthrough on.

But, like a secondhand car salesman, Romney’s words seemed less motivated by any respect to ethics, or principles, than the need to sell a commodity – in this case, himself.

His public support for Israel over the last couple of days has, at times, seemed to surpass even that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. For starters, he declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and indicated heavily that if elected president he would endorse the U.S. moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv.

At a breakfast for donors at the King David Hotel Monday, the presidential candidate outdid himself, however, telling his Jewish audience that it was their culture which has enabled them to be so much more economically successful than the Palestinians.

Not only did he get the basic maths wrong, (Romney said Israel’s GDP was $21,000 to Palestine’s $10,000, when in fact the difference is much starker, with the World Bank stating a 2011 GDP per capita of $31,000 in Israel and just over $1,500 in Gaza and the West Bank) but this racist and dangerous comment is completely detached from reality.

This “culture” he speaks of comprises a patchwork of immigrants, many of whom were undeniably pushed from their own European countries, only to go on to occupy Palestinian lands, imprison and slaughter tens of thousands, and make refugees of millions more. Today Israel continues to steal land, water and resources from what little is left of Palestine, and refuses to grant the Palestinians the most basic human rights.

If this is somehow a better culture, then an examination is necessary of what Romney himself believes constitutes an advanced civilization.

American politicians, whether Republican or Democrat, have always focused on the Jewish vote, and this is one thing. But there is a fine line between a politician and a demagogue, and Romney’s Israel trip, in which he raised $1 million, constitutes him selling his soul.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 31, 2012, on page 7.




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