We didn’t need the New York Times quoting Saeb Erekat to tell us how racist Mitt Romney’s “gaffe” in Jerusalem on Monday was. He said, basically, that Palestinians are poor because they’re lazy, while the State of Israel is rich because it’s run by people who are industrious (and chosen). Talking about the “dramatically stark difference in economic vitality” between Israel and the PA, Romney said:
…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. One, I recognize the hand of providence in selecting this place…There’s also something very unusual about the people of this place. [In Start-Up Nation, Dan Senor] described why it is Israel is the leading nation for start-ups in the world. And why businesses one after the other tend to start up in this place. And he goes through some of the cultural elements that have led Israel to become a nation that has begun so many businesses and so many enterprises and that is becomes so successful.
No mention of 64 years of occupation, dispossession, home demolitions, land theft, closures, and “administrative detention.” Since Romney made these remarks two days ago, a well-deserved critique of his racism has made the rounds from this blog to the paper of record.**
What hasn’t been pointed out much is the anti-Semitism of Romney’s statement: Israel’s such a smashing success because Jews are good with money. That’s just our culture. Seriously?
These comments might have been a bad PR move for Romney, but to call them a gaffe is to undersell the moment. It’s an excellent illumination of how tightly bound up anti-Jewish sentiment is with racism against Palestinians.
That Romney should say something anti-Jewish while supporting Israel is no surprise. Zionism itself is ambivalent about Jews. Since its emergence in Europe in the late 19th century, political Zionism has been about reinventing European Jews (and ignoring or oppressing other Jews, especially Arab Jews). It’s been about suppressing the embarrassing stereotype of the Yiddish-speaking, effeminate, near-sighted scholar hunched over a book in favor of the New Jew: a Hebrew-speaking, broad-shouldered, hyper-masculine soldier. For Theodor Herzl, Zionism was partially about solving Europe’s Jewish problem, getting rid of its pesky Jews so that liberal democracy could thrive in racially homogenous nation-states. That’s Zionism as anti-Semitism.
The racism of Romney’s take on the Palestinian economy and the anti-Semitism of his take on the Israeli economy are two heads of the same beast. Zionism needs both of these to exist. In the racial logic of Zionism, Jews are exceptional, canny, and unable to live among others, while Palestinians are lazy, irrelevant, and violent. Nobody wins here except Boeing and the Christian Right.
This is not to say that Jews should support Palestinian freedom and self-determination because 64 years of the Israeli occupation is bad for Jews. But we should. And it is.
**The critical response seems to be missing an analysis of Romney’s comparison of Israel/Palestine to U.S./Mexico — there, too, a lack of cultural vigor is apparently the reason for the gross inequity of resource distribution in North America. Some things Mexico and Palestine do have in common, of course, are a shared experience of neoliberal exploitation and intensive border policing funded by the U.S, as well as strong traditions of political resistance.