Romney was right — and wrong — in Jerusalem

MENAHEM KAHANA AFP/GETTY IMAGES Mitt Romney visits the Western Wall on July 29 during the annual Tisha B’Av (Ninth of … Continued



Mitt Romney visits the Western Wall on July 29 during the annual Tisha B’Av (Ninth of Av) fasting.

Mitt Romney went to Jerusalem and, depending upon whom one asks, spoke the truth with clarity, or promulgated racist lies about Palestinians. As is often the case, neither of those simplistic analyses is correct.  Of course, this was Jerusalem, so it’s not at all surprising, especially to one who lived there for years and continues to love the city deeply.

Jerusalem has confounded simplistic analyses for millennia.  It’s a city whose very name, in Hebrew at least, suggests that it is a place in which everything can be found.  It’s so true.  Jerusalem is a great spiritual mirror in which people have found, and continue to find, whatever they are looking for, and that is exactly what happened to Romney, those who have defended his remarks and those who have attacked them. 

Perhaps most disturbing, especially for anyone who genuinely desires durable peace for Jerusalem and for the region, and is smart enough to appreciate that most current thinking on either side will not get us there, is that if one cannot see how Romney was both right and wrong, peace is very far off indeed.

Can anyone seriously suggest that larger cultural forces are not always significant factors in how individuals are likely to function in specific communities?  Can anyone deny that questions about Palestinian economic and political culture have been so serious as to create real support, even among otherwise secular Palestinians, for Islamist groups whom they hoped would reform the culture in positive ways? 

Ronen Zvulun


Israel’s President Shimon Peres, right, and U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Can anyone seriously doubt that no matter how unequal the two communities opportunities may be in many respects, that Palestinians could have done more to create economic success over the past half century?  Romney was right to raise those questions, and challenge Palestinians to rise to the challenge of meeting them better than they have. Of course, he was also dead wrong for focusing on that alone, especially because in certain cultural ways, Palestinians and Israelis are remarkably alike, meaning that more is involved here than broad claims about any people’s culture.

In fact, Palestinians consistently rank at or near the top of the most educated and most successful Arab communities in the world, especially when they go abroad.  At the very least, this suggests that the political reality of statelessness and the significant power differential that exists between Israelis and Palestinians cannot be ignored in offering any thoughts about the relative success of these two peoples. 

From Jordan to Brazil to the grocers I recently visited in Haiti, Palestinians are all at the very top of both local and international business development, to say nothing of their rapid and successful integration into the fabric of the United States.  So, if this is about culture, then the definition of that culture will have to be wider than Romney’s comments seemed to suggest.

I appreciate the candidate’s candor, and actually give him an “A” for that part of his “work” in the Middle East.  And for those who are uncomfortable with what he had to say, you are probably the ones who need to hear it the most.  Unfortunately, were his comments submitted as his final, Romney would have to settle for an ‘incomplete’ at best – having  not seen as big a picture as is required in order to lead the way toward a new Middle East.

Jerusalem is a funny place that way — often promising radical insight but almost as often simply offering excuses to continue in old ways, long past when those ways continue to serve us well.  It’s something which Romney, those who loved his words and those who hated them should all remember.

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Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.

    Israel – the land where the only history that matters is that before 0 AD and that after 1973 AD.

  • gmhendo

    One question is this: Does Romney have a heart-felt sympathy for any of the players in the middle east, or is this just a tactical move to gain campaign funds and/or try and define his position and sympathies to the Jewish vote?

    I doubt it is that he has any sympathy to the cause per se. Almost certainly it is all about enhancing his Presedential campaign.

    Given the Palin-esque components of his overseas tour, I doubt that a large proportion of the American Jewish population will be convinced Romney is their man. Jews are way too intelligent for that, and so are the Palestinians. That’s the probable outcome, despite any merit in his approach.

    Given the importance of diplomatic understanding and skills to America’s well-bing, I give Romney very few marks, and nowhere near a “pass” mark.

  • Secular1

    Mr. Hirschfeild, you are an idiot who thinks there are two sides to every situation. This is what i call pseudo-intellectualism. Mr. Hirschfeild you need to decide whether you want to support willard or critique him. You are lowering yourself into the same pond scum that Willard wallows in daily. Here is the quote from BH, “Romney was right to raise those questions, and challenge Palestinians to rise to the challenge of meeting them better than they have. Of course, he was also dead wrong for focusing on that alone, especially because in certain cultural ways, Palestinians and Israelis are remarkably alike, meaning that more is involved here than broad claims about any people’s culture.” The trouble with this utter garbage and inanity, is that Willard was not speaking to the Palestinians. He was spewing this nonsense at a private dinner with his jewish benefactors, which were naked pandering, that Willard has a fine art forte of late. AT best his comments, if they were made anywhere else in an advisory tone, could only be considered patronizing & condescending. First of all what history does Willard have with Palestinians to even offer them his advise. Does he even know how to spell Palestine? Given this background this sycophant Hirschfeild does not want to call it for what it was, lest Willard wins the contest. At the same tim ehe does not want to annoy the Dems, hence this vile column. BH you are disgrace. It is not required off you to pen a few sentences on each and every column. You would do well to keep your mouth shut. At least then there is some mystery left about you. But when you pe these inanities, you leave no doubt that you are either an idiot or suffering from dementia, given your advanced years. Please heed to my free advice.

  • WmarkW

    That’s an important point abut Palestinians in diaspora. They’re also primarily Christian, while the ones in the middle east are primarily Muslim. Since there’s no racial distinction between a Christian and Muslim Palestinian, this must be a continuation of the pattern than historically-Christian countries are successful and Muslim ones only get by on unearned land wealth.

  • haveaheart

    Rabbi Hirschfield’s argument is specious at it core because everything Mitt Romney said while in Israel was purely political — and the rabbi knows it.

  • hedgehog6

    Jerusalem is a funny, complicated, and dangerous place. As one Arab geographer put it–about a thousand years ago: “Jerusalem is a golden basin filled with scorpions.” One of the best books, a relatively thin volume, discussing the nature of this international city was by the late Amos Elon and titled “Jerusalem, City of Mirrors.” The work is still relavent.

  • mbeck1

    Romney’s gaffe was not his culture comment. It was a diplomatic gaffe. If he becomes president he will not be able to effectively advance any strategy to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict because he, and by extension, the United States, will not be perceived as a credible, unbiased player. This diplomatic gaffe is, in fact, far more serious than whether culture does or doesn’t influence the way a particular society functions. We need a president who understands how to advance American interests. Diplomacy is always at the heart of any strategy. Romney as president, by his comment, would make advancing America’s interest in that region much more difficult.

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