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US Jewish Peace Group Calling Romney Racist over Palestinian Culture Comment


Rabbi Joseph Berman, Boston chair of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Rabbi Joseph Berman, Boston chair of Jewish Voice for Peace.
Photo Credit: Temple website

In an entirely predictable effort to use the word “Jewish” to attack those who support the Jewish State, the organization Jewish Voice for Peace invited other haters of Israel to sign a letter to Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, lambasting him for his “racist” and “ignorant” statements about Arab Palestinians.

In one of the more hotly debated statements Romney made on his trip to Israel last month, he attributed the vast disparity in economic health between that of the robust Israeli one and the dismal one of the Palestinian Authority to, in part, a difference in culture.

Given that the two societies live in the same climate, with the same geologic infirmities, is it a wonder that someone might think to look to culture to explain the vast difference between the two?  Of course, the naming of children’s sports teams, streets and town squares after people who blow themselves up in order to murder as many Jews as possible is surely an indicator of cultural inclination.

But the JVP folks insist that the reason for the disparity in economic health between the two societies is the “Occupation.”

Rabbi Joseph Berman of Temple B’Nai Israel in Revere, Massachusetts, is the Boston chair of JVP and sits on its rabbinic council.  Rabbi Berman delivered the JVP petition to Romney’s national headquarters in Boston, on Monday, August 6, 2012.  The petition “demands” Romney apologize to the “Palestinian people” for his “cultural differences” statement regarding the Arab Palestinian people.

Your statements in Jerusalem regarding the growth of the Palestinian and Israeli economies were inaccurate and misleading. Israel’s Occupation of Palestinian land makes it impossible for the Palestinian economy to succeed, not “cultural differences.” Your comments were not a reflection of the values Jews, Americans, and our allies hold dear. We call on you to apologize to the Palestinian people for your willful lack of understanding of the facts on the ground and the racist assumptions behind them.

Given what they describe as Romney’s racism, JVP claims that this election season “is a unique moment to raise the issue of the Occupation in the presidential election. We all know the Occupation is what’s holding back the Palestinian economy.”

Is it?  Back in 2002 the pre-eminent Middle East historian Efraim Karsh slew that sacred cow. Karsh explained that, actually, the very best thing that ever happened to the economy, the overall health, the educational levels and the standard of living for the Arab Palestinians was precisely what JVP and others claim is the reason for their misery: the so-called “Occupation.”

Following the 1967 war, when Israel became responsible for the Arabs living in the disputed territories, their life expectancy rose from 48 years in 1967 to 72 years in 2000; their infant mortality rate plunged from 60 out of 1000 to just 15 in 2000; during the 1970′s the economy in the territories and Gaza was the fourth fastest growing in the world, illiteracy rates plummeted to just 14 percent, the lowest of all Arabs in the surrounding Arab countries.  In 1967, when Israel first gained control over the territories, there was not a single institution of higher learning, by the beginning of the 1970′s there were seven.

The JVP petition claims that Arabs are under-paid in the territories, but, in fact, Arabs living in Israel and the territories have among the highest standard of living of any Arabs anywhere in the world.

But Jewish Voice for Peace echoes the outrage of Palestinian Authority spokesman Saeb Erekat’s response to Romney’s cultures claim. They are insisting that rather than Arab intransigence and a culture that glorifies murder and terrorism, it is the mere statement of a US presidential candidate that has destroyed the chances for negotiations that JVP, at least, claims would lead to the creation of the holy grail of progressive Jewish politics – the creation of a Palestinian State.

Professor of Medieval history Richard Landes, writing in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, August 6, shored up Karsh’s exposure of the “Occupation” as Middle East bogeyman (“Richard Landes: Romney Is Right on Culture and the Wealth of Nations“).  While Karsh wrote about the benefits brought to the Arabs by their exposure to, and entwining with, the Israeli economy and technological progress, post-”Occupation,” Landes struck hard on aspects of Arab culture that practically ensure stagnation.

Arab culture, says Landes, views intellectual curiosity and exuberant innovation as subversive.  He writes that Arab culture  “emphasizes rote learning and unquestioning respect for those in authority,” and public criticism of authority invites “sharp retaliation.”

Landes brings the argument full circle.  In the speech he gave in which he discussed the impact of culture on both the Israeli and the Arab economies, Romney cited historian David Landes, Richard’s father. The son pointed out, in his Journal op-ed, that “Blaming others for one’s own failures prolongs failure. Even though his own government daily chooses a culture of death, not life, Mr. Erekat wants to blame Israel for Palestine’s woes; no admission here that he and his colleagues might have some role in the suffering of their own people.”

If blaming others is at least a root cause of the dismal Arab economy, and if JVP and their fellow travelers encourage that culture of blame, then perhaps it is also the culture of those such as Rabbi Joseph Berman and his comrades at JVP which must bear at least some of the blame for the cycle of Arab failure.

More Good Works by our Brothers and Sisters at the Jewish Voice for Peace:

JVP supports Presbyterian Divestment

JVP is very proud to have been part of the broad coalition supporting Presbyterian efforts to boycott settlement products and divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation since 2004. We are especially proud of the members of our youth branch — Young, Jewish, and Proud (YJP) — and of our Rabbinical Council who were in Pittsburgh this year at the General Assembly meeting in support of the resolutions.

TIAA-CREF: Divest from the occupation

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) has endorsed the TIAA-CREF campaign and is urging all groups working on boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns in the US, especially on university campuses, to endorse the campaign and join it, whenever possible, to amplify its reach and impact across the US. 

Campus Divestment

On April 28, 2010, students at the University of California at Berkeley failed by just one vote to overturn the veto of the original student council vote of 16 to 4 to divest from companies that specifically profit from the occupation, but they helped launch a new phase of the movement for justice.

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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