Mitt Romney took some heat for his efforts to praise Israel’s financial prowess during his visit to Jerusalem last month, angering Palestinians by suggesting that their economy was doing worse than their neighbor’s in part because of culture.
But whatever goodwill his words engendered at that time from his intended audience – Israelis and American Jews – he quickly found a way to tick some of them off too.
Speaking about the American economy this week, Romney contrasted it with the iconic Israeli kibbutz movement.
"It''s individuals and their entrepreneurship which have driven America," Romney said at a fundraiser. "What America is not [is] a collective where we all work in a kibbutz.”
He elaborated, “Instead it''s individuals pursuing their dreams and building successful enterprises which employ others and they become inspired as they see what has happened in the place they work and go off and start their own enterprises."
Democrats, who had to watch from the sidelines as Romney traveled to Israel and criticized President Obama for not making a similar trip while in office, saw an opportunity to score points.
“Romney seems to have switched his stance on Israel’s culture by attacking one of the Jewish state’s most cherished foundational movements,” the National Jewish Democratic Council charged.
The Romney campaign did not respond to my request for reaction to the reaction.
Of course, not that many people in America – Jews included – would be eager to sign up for the agricultural collectivist model of the kibbutz. (And for that matter, neither are many Israelis; most kibbutzim have phased in individual ownership and responsibility far removed from the original communal ideal.)
But it seemed, like the Palestinian comment, a gratuitous dig. Romney probably didn’t lose many votes with the remark, given that the number of American citizens living on kibbutzim and inclined to back a Republican is likely marginal. But putting down the kibbutz movement – with its romanticized pioneering image – won’t get him many votes either.
- Hilary Leila Krieger