At a fundraiser in Jerusalem on Monday, Republican presidential aspirant Mitt Romney took a moment to praise Israel's wealth and "economic vitality," contrasting it with the relative poverty of the Palestinians next door. What really infuriated Palestinians, though, was his explanation for the economic disparity: "Culture makes all the difference," along with "the hand of providence." Saeb Erekat, a senior adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, said Romney is being "racist" and uninformed by ignoring the widely recognized impact of Israel's prolonged economic restrictions on Gaza and the West Bank. Still, his remarks were welcomed by the Jewish-American donors — notably casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson — who collectively gave Romney more than $1 million at the event, and as Dan Amira notes at New York, "American voters don't have an overly fond opinion of Palestinians." Could infuriating Palestinians actually help Romney win in November?
Yes. Romney is saying the right things: "We live in a time when being pro-Israel has become a key test of a candidate's presidential fitness, and rightly so," says Bret Stephens at The Wall Street Journal. Romney just passed that test in Israel, showing uncharacteristic "conviction and sincerity" in his admiration for all that Israel has accomplished. What got Romney in trouble with Palestinians — that "Israeli success, in his mind, is earned — and so is Palestinian failure" — will only help him in the U.S. Personally, "I'm beginning to warm to Mitt."
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No. He flunked the statesman test: The point of Romney's world tour wasn't to curry favor with Israel-philes so much as to prove to all Americans that he would be "a Reaganesque commander-in-chief," says Joshua Greenman at the New York Daily News. "All I can say is: Oy, Mitt. Oy." It's not just "tone-deaf" but "damn near dangerous" for a would-be U.S. president to jump into Mideast politics by calling Palestinians "culturally inferior," ignoring their "legitimate gripes" about being occupied by Israel and shunned by Arab neighbors, and suggesting "the Lord made Israel rich." Yikes.
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It might help Romney, but not Israel: There's a word for Romney's taking Israel's side on everything from Iran to economic development: "Pandering," says Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy. He wants Jewish voters, donors, and "Christian Zionists" to support him, and not Obama. But "this sort of pandering is a bipartisan activity," and Obama's holding his own. It's probably good politics, but for anyone who cares about foreign policy, "the good news, such as it is, is that both Romney and Obama are probably lying" about their "love" and "unshakable commitment" to Israel.
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