American Elephants

The State of Israel and Mitt Romney’s “Gaffes” by The Elephant's Child

The marvelous Michael Ramirez tells the story better in one perfect cartoon than I do in a whole column.  See all his work at   (Click to enlarge)

Mitt Romney, according to the liberal media, committed a horrible gaffe last week in Jerusalem by commenting on the relation of culture to Israeli economic growth. Saeb Erekat, correctly understanding an implied criticism of Palestinian culture, called Mr. Romney a “racist” and complained that Palestinian economic problems were due to the Israeli occupation. Liberal analysts were quick to jump in to explain that Mr. Erekat’s words meant that Mr. Romney.  has disqualified himself as a broker for peace.

There’s perennial argument buried in there, economists argue about whether development is caused by cultural advantages or by natural advantages like access to primary resources and resistance to disease. If economists has a sure recipe for economic advancement, we’d all be more advanced than we are, and economists wouldn’t have as much to argue about.

Israel is an interesting case. A tiny country with no natural resources was an economic backwater even in the says of the Ottoman Empire. It became a highly developed nation on culture alone.  As Todd G. Bucholtz wrote once in the Wall Street Journal:

And then there is Israel today. It may be settled by God’s chosen people, but He chose not to give them a drop of oil while gushers sprout across Arabia. And its terrain doesn’t naturally grow enough green for a sprig of parsley on your dinner plate.  Yet the land blooms. In the race for development would you rather bet on a country with tons of zinc or one with a couple of extra IQ points and a free flow of ideas?

The influence of plentiful oil did not change the nature of Arab economies. It did not fuel economic development that benefited all, but led to crowded cities. The oil rich economies of Libya and Iraq have social structures much like oil-lacking Egypt and Syria. Change is feared, and the culture is authoritative. But Arab populations have grown and prospered where Jews settled — in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Hebron, and remained stagnant  where they didn’t. The Palestinian population is among the best-educated and most competent in the Arab world, and under Israeli rule (the hated occupation) the West Bank was one of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world in the 1980s.

Many Palestinians regard Jewish economic leadership as an attack on their pride. Their situation might be far different if they quit firing missiles into Israel, and concentrated on their own development. When liberal reporters and analysts denounce Mr. Romney for his “gaffe, they should recognize there are Palestinian entrepreneurs who wept when Yasser Arafat rejected Israel’s peace offer at Camp David in 2000, and who know the costs to their peoples of politicians intransigence.

They would do far better to recognize the dishonest response of Mr. Erekat, and stand up for their own country instead of trying to create controversy.

The culture in Israel, that free flow of ideas and entrepreneurial spirit, has discovered vast new deposits of natural gas off their coast, developed a thriving high-tech industry, and has much to offer their neighbors.


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