American politicians, particularly those desirous of high office, never fail to proclaim their undying fealty to Israel, given the widely held perception that support of the powerful Jewish lobby is essential to electoral success.
An early visit to Israel is part of this routine, which explains why the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, travelled to Israel last week. However, the trip was also meant to showcase his understanding of foreign policy issues, but it got off on a wrong footing, with a faux pas in London caused by his gratuitous remark about the British. This exposed Romney’s inability to appreciate the nuances influencing relations with foreign countries.
In Jerusalem, Romney sought to repair the damage, but instead went overboard; not only offering his hosts a carte blanche should they decide to attack Iran but also ridiculing the Palestinians. His remarks caused quite a stir, though they were in tune with the sentiments of his supporters, such as the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who had organised the trip and expressed readiness to give as much as $100 million for Romney’s campaign. It, nevertheless, raised questions about the nominee’s intelligence, acumen and political maturity.
Moreover, in claiming that Israel’s accomplishments were on account of “culture and a few other things” including, of course, “the hand of providence”, Romney exposed his racist tendencies. Though Palestinian criticism was of little consequence to Romney, his remarks did invite negative comments from other countries, including China, as well as from mainstream US political and social commentators. In fact, even his claim that he came to this view from his reading of Jared Diamond’s best-seller Guns, Germs and Steel was dismissed by the author himself, who denied having propounded such a theory. To further buttress his intellectual credentials, Romney referred to David Land’s book The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, to assert that culture is the defining factor in determining the success of a society. But this view has always been controversial.
While applauding Israel’s high GDP per capita and denigrating Palestine’s poor economic performance, the presidential aspirant appeared not to know that Palestine has been occupied by Israel for the past many decades, during which, much of its economy and infrastructure has been destroyed and the territory made its captive market. He also ignored the fact that Israel has been the largest annual recipient of American assistance for the past many decades. And, of course, Romney would not have had time to read the World Bank’s just-issued report, which affirms that Palestine’s crippled economy is primarily on account of Israel’s five-year blockade.
Romney’s reference to “providence” aiding Israel’s achievements was equally purposeful. He was obviously trying to appeal to the powerful evangelical Christian groups (who have their own misgivings about him), whose core belief is that the creation of Israel and the gathering of all Jews there, has a divine purpose — to create conditions for the second coming of Christ.
Romney’s ‘antics’ may surprise and disappoint many, but it arises from the increasing role of money in US elections, especially of those such as Adelson, who can write mega cheques to ‘super PACS’ (Publics Accounts Committee) and the fact that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful Israeli lobby alone can vouch for the credentials of the candidates. This has made virtually all lawmakers fearful of offending Israel. American national politics is littered with the destroyed careers of giants such as Senator Charles Percy, who were defeated because they were perceived as not ‘loyal enough’ to Israel. And President Jimmy Carter’s own defeat is ascribed by some to his espousal of a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian issue, even though he may have done more than any US president to ensure Israel’s security by facilitating a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. With people such as Romney occupying centre stage in US politics, peace between Israel and the Palestinians will remain a distant dream.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2012.