Romney’s Compliment to the Jewish People Closer to a Slur

On Monday morning Mitt Romney told a group of forty Jewish supporters gathered for a power breakfast in Jerusalem that “as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

Among those other things: “the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the hand of providence.”

These factors, said Romney, explain the economic disparity between Israeli Jews and the Palestinians.

As Sarah Posner pointed out earlier this morning, “the reaction of the Palestinian leadership was quick and strong.” Romney was condemned for the inaccuracy and the racial tinge of his remarks.

Until this morning’s comments, Romney’s remarks on his Israel visit had followed a prepared script; he presented the usual campaign bromides about support for Israel and labored to distinguish his foreign policy from that of President Obama.

Romney’s gaffes in London a few days earlier were embarrassing enough for his campaign staffers and supporters. Criticizing the British for their lack of preparedness for the Olympics and making public his meeting with the head of MI-6 were quite distressing for those who follow European affairs (though for many in the Republican base a poke at what Donald Rumsfeld once referred to as ‘Old Europe’ might be a welcome thrust).

But Romney’s remarks about Jewish superiority were of a different order, and it’s not only the Palestinian leadership that should be aghast at his remarks. Essentially, what the GOP’s candidate for president was saying is that “Jews are good with money.”

While the wealthy businessmen and investors at the breakfast might have taken that as a compliment (though some in attendance might very well have flinched), students of Jewish history, and of Christian-Jewish relations, can’t help but being horrified by the tone-deafness of such language. The myth of Jewish financial acumen—and dishonesty—has been at the core of anti-Semitic discourse throughout the centuries. It was present in the writings of Church fathers, in the dramas of the Elizabethan period, and in the screeds of the Nazi propagandists.

Hearing Romney’s slur, surely intended as a compliment, I couldn’t help thinking of the many Israelis living at the poverty line and below. Over the past year these Israelis and thousands of their supporters have been demonstrating against the inequities of the Israeli economic system. But it seems that these ‘poor Jews’ don’t count in the Republican campaign calculus.

slgoldm@learnlink.emory.edu'

Shalom Goldman is Professor Of Religion at Duke University. His most recent book is Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews, and the Idea of the Promised Land (UNC Press, January, 2010).