Israel is the object of widespread admiration for its economic and technical accomplishments and the ingenuity that went into them — for being a nation that made the desert bloom. Much of the admiration is quite warranted, with Israeli talent and resourcefulness having not only produced blooms on kibbutzes but also a leading high-tech sector today.
The comparisons involved, however, usually leave unstated how much of the accomplishment rests on the prerogatives Israel has wrested for itself as an occupying power (not to mention the many billions of dollars through the years of U.S. assistance to Israel, which effectively has shifted burdens from Israeli to U.S. taxpayers).
Three years ago, presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a speech in Jerusalem that illustrated the kind of incompletely based comparisons that are typical. Referring to the disparity (which he actually understated) between the per capita gross domestic product of Israel and that of areas assigned to the Palestinian Authority, Romney’s explanation was: “Culture makes all the difference” — by which he meant that something akin to the Protestant work ethic drove Israeli enterprise but was missing from Arab culture.
He made no mention of the numerous physical, legal and resource impediments, within a few miles of where he was standing, to Palestinian economic activity that were part of the Israeli occupation, ranging from denial of building permits to prohibitions on Arab use of transportation networks. Of course, Romney’s motivation for saying what he did undoubtedly had something to do with the audience and pocketbooks to which he was appealing (he was speaking at a fundraiser attended by prominent Jewish-American backers).
Moreover, Romney is a very wealthy man who repeatedly demonstrated in other ways during the campaign his difficulty in comprehending the circumstances of those less well off. But his remarks suggested a view of Israel and the Palestinians that was both sincerely held and shared by many other Americans.