US Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney generated a backlash with his claims in Jerusalem that the vast (20:1) disparity in income between Israelis and Palestinians can be explained by a superior Jewish Israeli culture and "the hand of providence" – rather than by the systematic depradations of Israeli occupation on the economy of Palestinians.

Romney’s comments suggesting the inferiority of Palestinian culture are only the latest racist attacks targeting Palestinians – and aimed to please hardline pro-Israel voters and donors – launched by hopefuls in the 2012 US presidential election.

Three responses stand out.

The first is Sam Bahour’s piece which – miraculously – appears at Bahour puts Romney’s denigration of Palestinian culture in historic perspective: Given Palestine is part and parcel of an Arab culture that was the cradle of civilization, is home to the oldest cities in the world, and provided humanity with significant contributions towards the development of many "modern" sciences, such as physics, chemistry, medicine, mathematics and astronomy, one can only assume Romney sees no value in any of these — or is entirely ignorant of them.

Instead, he views Israel as the "miracle," a 64-year-old country that was built on the ruins and ashes of the indigenous Palestinians, many of whom refuse to submit to a continuing campaign of slow — and sometimes not so slow — removal from the land.

As an experienced businessman who has attempted to develop a Palestinian economy free from both Israeli and international shackles, Bahour speaks from experience when he writes: Over the years, not only has Israel prohibited the emergence of a new Palestinian economy — it has structurally and systematically made certain that even the buds of such a productive economy would never see the light of day.

Anyone who scratches the surface of all the political spin can see for themselves what the World Bank now repeats: that Israel’s "apparatus of control" has "become more sophisticated and effective in its ability to interfere in and affect every aspect of Palestinian life, including job opportunities, work, and earnings … (turning) the West Bank into a fragmented set of social and economic islands or enclaves cut off from one another."

Besieged Gaza is in far worse shape than the West Bank. The International Monetary Fund and the European Union are making similar points.

The culture of "white supremacy"

Writing in Black Agenda Report, Glen Ford mocks Romney’s contentions that "Two cultures have clashed in Palestine, and one has been found to be 20 times as productive as the other." Turning the tables, Ford points out how the "culture" of white supremacy from which Romney’s ideology flows, has been used in the United States and Africa to justify the subjugation of people of color: White South Africa regarded its wealth as prima facie evidence of cultural superiority. The fact that the land, minerals and labor on which that wealth was built belonged to Black people simply proved that Blacks lacked a "culture" adequate to manage those resources.

Moreover, White Power was in the best interest of Black South Africans who, the apartheid regime was proud to proclaim, had a higher per capita income than Blacks elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, white cultural superiority could be beneficial to nearby Blacks, under controlled conditions that did not pollute the precious European cultural environment.

Similarly, White U.S. southerners also insisted, during slavery and Jim Crow, that "their" Negroes were the best off in the world because of their exposure to white folks’ religion and way of life. Left to their own devices, however, Black folks’ innate cultural inferiority – depravity! – would do them in. Blacks’ freedom of movement and expression must be contained, for their own good.

White liberals also believed in the Culture Demon. In the 1950s and early 60s, it was considered politically correct to describe African Americans as "culturally deprived" – meaning, Blacks are disadvantaged by lack of exposure to white culture. Power has nothing to do with it.

Get the facts

Seizing the opportunity of Romney’s ignorant comments, the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU) has put together an excellent fact sheet "Palestinian Culture: 64 Years Under Israeli Assault."

It’s an excellent, well-documented summary of Israel’s record of destruction of Palestinians towns, cities and villages, theft and destruction of natural and economic resources, denial of access to education, destruction of agriculture and siege and blockade on Palestinian economic development. A useful resource for all of us when we respond to the deliberate distortions and denigrations about Palestine.

August 2, 2012