Monday, July 30, 2012

What if Palestinians had a culture of success?

Palestinians are victims. That is not just a fact, it seems to be a massive part of their collective identity.

They are victimized by countries that have kicked them out over the years (Jordan and Israel, notably). They are victimized by the country that has repeatedly defeated them and corralled them into internment camps. (That would be Israel.) But more than anything, they seem to be victims of their own sense of helplessness.

This weekend, Mitt Romney stated that the disparity between Israeli and Palestinian incomes and success is largely a function of cultural differences. Palestinians were outraged, because to them (and their supporters) the most obvious reason for their continued poverty and lack of success is the "Israeli occupation." If not for their being systematically discriminated against, kicked out of and kept away from their homeland, and generally oppressed by those with power in their land, they would enjoy as much success as Israelis have.

But you know who else has had to deal with centuries of being systematically discriminated against, kicked out of and kept away from their homeland, and generally oppressed by those with power in their land? Jews.

For hundreds of years Jews had to deal with open discrimination in Europe and the many areas in which they settled. In many cases, this discrimination could be violent and even murderous. People think of Nazi Germany and The Holocaust when they hear of violent Antisemitism, but the fact is that Jews had to deal with intense discrimination in every European nation over the centuries. The Holocaust was the worst, but by no means the only, time when Jews were murdered en masse by the native population. It is no exaggeration to say that Jews have been the ultimate victim class throughout Western history.

Funny thing, though -- they didn't develop a victim mentality because of their suffering. In fact, they thrived in the face of it. It was the very persistent success and collective refusal to be beaten down that characterized them as a people that engendered much of the resentment and hatred they faced.

The Jews had every reason to act like the Palestinians are today -- resentful, beaten down, increasingly turning to violence or supporting those who do as a means of lashing out at their oppressors. They did not. They exacted revenge for their discrimination, but it was a much more productive type than the Palestinians'.  They became so damn successful wherever they went that they just couldn't be ignored or forgotten. They did this well before there was an Evangelical Christian movement to reflexively support them. What Christian attention they got through the centuries was, regrettably, often hostile.

There were few (if any) 64-year periods in the last 2,000 years in which the Jews suffered less as a people than the Palestinians have suffered since the US recognized Israel in 1948. They have succeeded wildly anyway. That is entirely due to cultural factors (and, I would argue, Divine Providence). If tomorrow they gave up their collective identity as victims whose fate and success are subject to the whims of their oppressors and began creating the means of their own success themselves, Palestinians would begin to thrive the way the Jews have for the past two millennia. The only thing stopping them from doing so is their unwillingness to accept responsibility for their own fate.

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