The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has stated that Governor Mitt Romney was correct to note, as he did during a fundraiser dinner in Jerusalem, that Israeli culture plays a large part in Israels superior economic performance over the Palestinians.
Governor Romney said 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 … As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.
Palestinian Authority (PA) official Saeb Erekat have denounced Governor Romneys statement as racist. Erekat said, It is a racist statement and this man doesnt realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation … It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people Ashley Parker & Richard A. Oppel, Romney Trip Raises Sparks at a 2nd Stop, New York Times, July 30, 2012).
ZOA National Chairman of the Board Dr. Michael Goldblatt said, Governor Romney was correct to observe that culture plays a decisive role in economic performance. In particular, he was right to note that this has produced widely divergent results in economic performance between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Israel has a culture of private enterprise, competition, innovation and technology and has had it since its earliest days. In contrast, the PA has been bedeviled from its inception with crony capitalism, endemic corruption, distortions of the market and other malpractices which also affect its economy in drastic ways, not least in the loss of foreign investor confidence.
Israeli society is characterized by religious, economic and personal freedom. By contrast, the PA is unsafe for political dissidents or religious or sexual minorities. Bethlehem, under PA control since 1995, has seen its traditionally Christian population dwindle to less than 20%. In Hamas-controlled Gaza, there has been an even sharper flight of Christians. And Palestinian gays who wish to live without fear of death or imprisonment often have only one option: refuge in Israel. It makes sense that a society with Israels open and broadly liberal culture would be more stable, better educated, attract greater investment and produce more and better goods.
Palestinian culture is also afflicted with incitement to hatred and murder, glorification of violence and terror. One only has to look at PA TV programs, radio broadcasts and media features to see that it is the terrorist, not the entrepreneur, who is honored. The PA doesnt name streets, schools and sports teams after scientists and inventors. It names them after suicide bombers and jailed terrorists.
In the PA, as the ZOA has pointed out on many occasions, a public square, a summer camp for youth, a computer center and several events have been named in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, who led the terrorists who carried out the 1978 coastal road terrorist attack on an Israeli bus, murdering 37, including a dozen children.
Many Americans will recall that Palestinian enthusiasm for terrorism extends beyond Israel to the U.S., as those Americans who saw on their TV screens Palestinians celebrating the 9/11 attacks need no reminder.
Saeb Erekat claims that Governor Romneys statement was racist. This is predictably absurd: there was no reference in Governor Romneys comparison of Israel and the Palestinians to religion or ethnicity, let alone race. He referred to culture, which indeed can make a major difference. A society which aspires to terrorism and martyrdom rather than innovation and wealth-creation is going to perform poorly by comparison in the economic sphere.
Erekat objects that the PA cannot perform well economically because it is under occupation. Some people cannot live without alibis and need to blame others for failure, as Erekat does here. But the facts repudiate this shop-worn, opportunistic charge. Before the PA was established – in other words, when the areas now controlled by the PA were under Israeli control – economic growth was steady among Palestinians. Economic performance tapered off immediately after the PA assumed control in 1994, following the Oslo Accords, and all the attendant problems mentioned earlier came into play.
Even then, the PA was doing better in the mid-1990s than it was to do after 2000, when it launched a terrorist war against Israel. Naturally, joint projects, Israeli (and much foreign) investment came to a halt and the resultant hostilities destroyed or damaged much infrastructure. You can have war, but rarely can you have war and development. The Israeli economy also suffered from this war but, because of the general soundness of Israels economic culture, it recovered much more quickly once Palestinian terrorism was brought under control.
On this point, Governor Romney is right and his critics are wrong.