The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson has published his account of Mitt Romney’s trip abroad, focusing on the GOP candidate’s time in Israel. It is an editorial disguised as a story–common for presidential campaigns–and includes snarky asides unworthy of lefty blog posts, let alone newspaper reporting. But the crux of the problem for Wilson is identified in the headline: he calls Romney’s comments about Palestinian culture “puzzling.” Because he does not quote anyone in the story calling those comments “puzzling,” it’s clear from the context that Wilson is the puzzled one.
So let’s help him out a bit. Of Romney’s comments on Palestinian culture as one factor in the lagging Palestinian economy, Wilson writes:
The assessment is one not widely shared within Israel, and suggested a lack of sustained study or nuanced understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.
Wilson does not provide any attribution to back that statement up, probably because it is demonstrably false. It is, in fact, quite easy to find those in Israel and their democratically-elected government officials expressing this idea. But perhaps we should ask the Palestinians what they think. In 1994, at the beginning of the Oslo process but decades after the Six-Day War created the current geopolitical setting, Eyad El-Sarraj, the founder and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, wrote the following:
Palestinians have to address taboos and bring into the open ideological, cultural and political weaknesses which have infiltrated their national movement and seriously damaged their individual and collective awareness. They have to address their dependency on the outside world, their self-indulgent image of the victim, their own cycle of violence and oppression, their conflict between religious and secular identity, and the erosion of their national identity. Above all they have to confront the loss of the dream of liberating all of Palestine and the accompanying grief. They will have to exercise democratic debate and respect the right to oppose. Only then will a new style of political and community leadership evolve.
Last year, Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem were asked, in a final peace deal in which all Israeli control and stewardship over the West Bank would cease and the new Palestinian state called East Jerusalem its sovereign capital, would they rather be citizens of Israel or Palestine? Respondents were also asked if they would move elsewhere in Israel specifically to avoid having to live under Palestinian rule. A plurality responded in favor of Israeli citizenship, even if they had to move. Why?
When asked to provide the top reasons they chose one citizenship over the other, those who chose Israeli citizenship stressed freedom of movement in Israel, higher income, better job opportunities and Israeli health insurance.
So there would be much more economic opportunity in Israel, even once the Palestinians were freed from the “occupation.” We could go on, but you get the point. As I said: Wilson’s claim is demonstrably false, as Professor Google would have told him immediately. Does Wilson quote anyone at all in the story, you ask? Yes he does:
“This really is an election about the economy,” said Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, a nonprofit organization that promotes a two-state solution to the conflict.
Now, Ibish is a prolific Mideast commentator and has every right to register his opinion with reporters. But perhaps Ibish could have been balanced with an additional quote from someone with a slightly different perspective on ethnic conflict. After all, this is what Ibish thinks of Israel:
The system of ethnic discrimination imposed by military force and Israel’s “civil administration” in the occupied territories is by far the most extreme form of discriminatory abuse anywhere in the world today.
And you thought Darfur was bad! In any case, Wilson doesn’t need to quote a lot of “experts,” because he just offers his opinions. Here is a paragraph that belongs in the Newseum:
Romney’s advisers have argued that Obama — who ended the Iraq war, ordered the operation that killed Osama bin Laden and emphasized alliances at a time of austerity at home — is vulnerable in the area of foreign policy. Recent polling disagrees.
Wilson does not put quotes around that paragraph nor attribute it to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. Perhaps that will be added to an updated version of the story. Until then, we can only hope the Post finds the Middle East slightly less puzzling in the future.