Last Updated:November 26 @ 05:35 pm

Romney comments on economic realities draw cries of racism from Palestinians

By Kasie Hunt and Karin Laub

JERUSALEM (AP) - Mitt Romney told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who suggested his comments were racist and out of touch with the realities of the Middle East. His campaign later said his remarks were mischaracterized.

"As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality," the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who ate breakfast at the luxurious King David Hotel.

Romney said some economic histories have theorized that "culture makes all the difference."

"And 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," Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the "hand of providence." He said similar disparity exists between neighboring countries, like Mexico and the United States.

Palestinian reaction to Romney was swift and pointed.

"It is a racist statement and this man doesn't realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation," said Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people," Erekat added. "He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority."

As criticism mounted while Romney traveled to Poland, campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said: "His comments were grossly mischaracterized." The Republican's campaign contends Romney's comparison of countries that are close to each other and have wide income disparities - the U.S. and Mexico, Chile and Ecuador - shows his comments were broader than just the comparison between Israel and Palestine.

While speaking to U.S. audiences, Romney often highlights culture as a key to economic success and emphasizes the power of the American entrepreneurial spirit compared to the values of other countries. But his decision to highlight cultural differences in a region where such differences have helped fuel violence for generations raises new questions about the former businessman's diplomacy skills.

As he has at home, Romney in Jerusalem cited a book titled, "Guns, Germs and Steel," that suggests the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there.

"And you look at Israel and you say you have a hard time suggesting that all of the natural resources on the land could account for all the accomplishment of the people here," Romney said, before citing another book, "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations," by former Harvard professor David Landes.

This book, Romney said in Jerusalem, concludes that "if you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it's this: Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference."

The economic disparity between the Israelis and the Palestinians is actually much greater than Romney stated. Israel had a per capita gross domestic product of about $31,000 in 2011, while the West Bank and Gaza had a per capita GDP of just over $1,500, according to the World Bank.

Romney, seated next to billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson at the head of the table, told donors that he had read books and relied on his own business experience to understand why the difference in economic disparity between countries is so great.

His comparison of the two economies did not take into account the stifling effect the Israeli occupation has had on the Palestinian economy in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem - areas Israel captured in 1967 where the Palestinians hope to establish a state.

In the West Bank, Palestinians have only limited self-rule. Israel controls all border crossings in and out of the territory, and continues to restrict Palestinian trade and movement. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1967, but has invested much less heavily there than in Jewish west Jerusalem.

And although Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it continues to control access and has enforced a crippling border blockade since the Islamic militant Hamas seized the territory in 2007.

It's true that Israel has logged tremendous achievements, said Abraham Diskin, a political science professor at the Inter-Disciplinary Center outside of Tel Aviv. But "you can understand this remark in several ways," he added. "You can say it's anti-Semitic. `Jews and money.'"

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund repeatedly have said that the Palestinian economy can only grow if Israel lifts those restrictions.

"It's Israeli occupiers and Palestinians under occupation, and that's why Palestinians cannot realize their potential," Erekat said.

The breakfast with top donors - including Adelson, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and hedge fund manager Paul Singer - concluded Romney's visit to Israel, the second leg of a three-nation overseas tour designed to bolster his foreign policy credentials.

Standing on Israeli soil for the first time as the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, Romney on Sunday declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and said the U.S. has promised never to "look away from our passion and commitment to Israel."

The status of Jerusalem is a critical issue in peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

In Israel, Romney did not meet with Abbas or visit the West Bank. He met briefly with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Romney's campaign says the trip, which began in England last week, is aimed at improving the former Massachusetts governor's foreign policy experience through a series of meetings with foreign leaders. The candidate has largely avoided direct criticism of U.S. President Barack Obama while on foreign soil.

The Jerusalem fundraiser, however, was a political event that raised more than $1 million for Romney's campaign. It marks at least the second finance event during his tour. The first, in London, attracted about 250 people to a $2,500-per-person fundraiser.

Both presidential candidates have aggressively courted American donors living abroad, a practice that is legal and has been used for decades.

Romney's declaration that Jerusalem is Israel's capital was in keeping with claims made by Israeli governments for decades, even though the United States, like other nations, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.

His remarks on the subject during a speech drew a standing ovation from the audience, which included Adelson, the American businessman who has promised to donate more than $100 million to help defeat Obama.

Adelson was among a several donors who flew to Israel for a day of sightseeing with Romney in addition to private meetings with top Israeli officials.

Romney flew to the Middle East from Britain, where he caused a stir by questioning whether officials there were fully prepared for the Olympic Games. A stop in Poland will complete his trip.

Four years ago, Obama visited Israel as a presidential candidate, part of a five-nation trip meant to establish his own foreign policy credentials.

A goal of Romney's overseas trip is to demonstrate his confidence on the world stage, but the stop in Israel also was designed to appeal to evangelical voters at home and cut into Obama's support among Jewish voters and donors. A Gallup survey of Jewish voters released Friday showed Obama with a 68-25 edge over Romney.

Romney and other Republicans have said Obama is insufficiently supportive of Israel.


Associated Press writers Amy Teibel in Jerusalem and Steve Peoples in Washington contributed to this report.

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  1. cxComment by genesal
    July 30, 2012 @ 1:08 pm

    Palestinian leaders who suggested his comments were racist and out of touch with the realities of the Middle East.

    Then Mitt Romney is obviously doing something RIGHT!

    and it’s the PalaceKillians.

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    Rating: 4.2/5 (15 votes cast)
    • CharlieComment by vietnamvet
      July 30, 2012 @ 4:46 pm

      The comment was … “their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians,”

      That is true because the Israeli culture is one of buiding as much as possible from next to nothing.

      The primary underlying problem is that there never was a “Palestinian people” or a “Palestinian nation”, and there was also never any “Palestinian culture”.

      So, what passes for the ‘Palestinian culture’ is one of hovel-squatting while waiting for the world to make things better.

      What the so-called Palestinians WERE was “Arabs” who lived by the “Arab culture”. But, they have long forgotten that part of their history.

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    • cxComment by genesal
      July 30, 2012 @ 6:25 pm

      The end result of the 1948-49 Israeli War of Independence was the creation of a Jewish State slightly larger than that which was proposed by the 1947 United Nations Resolution 181. What remained of that almost-created second Arab Palestinian State was gobbled up by (1) Egypt (occupying the Gaza Strip) and by (2) Trans-Jordan (occupying Judea-Samaria (a.k.a. the “West Bank” of the Jordan River) and Jerusalem. In the next year (1950) Trans-Jordan formally merged this West Bank territory into itself and granted all those “Palestinian” Arabs living there Jordanian citizenship. Since Trans-Jordan was then no longer confined to one side of the Jordan River, it renamed itself simply “Jordan.” In the final analysis, the Arabs of Palestine ended up with nearly 85% of the original territory of Palestine… called Jordan but in reality their ARAB “Palestinian state! But that was still not 100% and thus the conflict between Arab and Jew for “Palestine” would continue through four more wars and continuous Arab terrorist attacks upon the Israeli citizenry. It continues to this very day.

      In other words it’s a war of hatred, not a war of justice.

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  2. jenerseaComment by jenersea
    July 30, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

    See here we go with the Sons of Arafat again. All the money that all the countries have pumped into that cess pool over the past few years should have made everyone of them a millionaire. But no what happened to that money? They pissed it away on buying munitions instead of doling it out to the people. So now they live in refugee camps amid squalor so that the Sons of Arafat can live in luxury. Sick and tired of hearing how bad they have it, when it is their own fault. They want to play the “victim” all the time. GO people living in the refugee camps and demand to know what happened to your money that was sent by the West to better your lives. Demand to know from the Sons of Arafat Leadership why they won’t help you?

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  3. 49bobComment by 49bob
    July 30, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

    A better comparison would be to compare the Palestinians in Israel to the Palestinians in Gaza.

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    • Bill from MiddletownComment by Bill from Middletown
      July 30, 2012 @ 3:44 pm

      Good point, but I can’t help but think that the Palestinians in Israel share a similar ethic and culture as the general Israeli population.

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      Rating: 3.8/5 (4 votes cast)
  4. downdraftComment by downdraft
    July 30, 2012 @ 2:59 pm

    Associated Press writers Amy Teibel in Jerusalem and Steve Peoples in Washington contributed to this report…..

    …so what would you expect from the AP? These writers are fortunate to drudge out a living having such unimpressive talents…if any at all.

    I should thank them…cause just who in blazes plans on voting for a Palistinian anyway? Maybe Obimbo and other “out to lunchers”…

    Way to go Mitt…its certain you love America, and I personally don’t give a rat’s arse what the AP and their Palistinian brothers think about your diplomatic skills…at least you didn’t bow to their sorry arses, and you spoke the truth…which they and Obimbo can’t handle..

    We are AMERICA…and that is WHY WE ARE GREAT AND SUCCESSFUL…I call that leadership by you Mitt…Obimbo certainly doesn’t have any…

    Thank You Mitt…Mr. President

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  5. Bill from MiddletownComment by Bill from Middletown
    July 30, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

    Why should Mitt, or anyone else for that matte, care about the opinions of mongrel dogs?

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    Rating: 4.2/5 (10 votes cast)
  6. Philip ClingermanComment by Philip Clingerman
    July 30, 2012 @ 4:42 pm

    Palestinians, Jews, Christians – all God’s children. ” A Gallup survey of Jewish voters released Friday showed Obama with a 68-25 edge over Romney.” I would think that our Jewish confreres would exhibit better judgment than this. Obama has not ratcheted up the pressure anywhere near enough on the Iranian government sworn to obliterate Israel. So, who is the friend of Israel? The pressure on Iran is like unto Obama meeting with his Jobs Council – six months overdue… C’mon people, smarten up!

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    • Bill from MiddletownComment by Bill from Middletown
      July 30, 2012 @ 8:21 pm

      Most, or at least many, American Jews are secular and have no allegiance to Israel.

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      Rating: 3.3/5 (7 votes cast)
  7. willyrhoComment by willyrho
    July 30, 2012 @ 6:38 pm

    Are Palestinians a Fantasy People or a Fantasy Race or a Fantasy Fantasy? Never were, never will be.

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    • cxComment by genesal
      July 30, 2012 @ 7:08 pm

      The Palestinians: No, they are not any ancient people, but claim to be. They were born in a single day, after a war that lasted six days in 1967 c.e. If they were true Canaanites, they would speak Hebrew and demand from Syria to give them back their occupied homeland in Lebanon, but they are not. If they were Philistines, they would claim back the Isle of Crete from Greece and would recognize that they have nothing to do with the Land of Israel, and would ask excuses to Israel for having stolen the Ark of the Covenant.

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  8. willyrhoComment by willyrho
    July 30, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

    Obama is a Moo Slim and his Assisi school registration says his religion is Islam and his citizenship is Indonesian. So he can not be a Natural Born Citizen because of his divided loyalties, along with his birth in Kenya. Everything about him is a Lie and a Deception. Purely Evil like his mentors and Idols.

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    • Bill from MiddletownComment by Bill from Middletown
      July 30, 2012 @ 8:24 pm

      So what is a Moo Slim; low fat milk? :)

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  9. Stanley SotoComment by Stanley Soto
    July 30, 2012 @ 9:44 pm

    I think Palestinians should choose to become a civilized peoples before they start their bitchin’ and complainin’!

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  10. KBBComment by KBB
    July 31, 2012 @ 12:55 am

    Cries of racism?! Are the Palestinians taking their cues from the Obama re-election campaign??

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    • Bill from MiddletownComment by Bill from Middletown
      July 31, 2012 @ 8:36 pm

      Wouldn’t doubt it; they’re in the same camp.

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  11. jen68Comment by jen68
    August 5, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

    I didn’t know palestinians were a race. The ‘word’ is being thrown around without merit, all thanks to Obama.

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