Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney invoked another batch of criticism for his overseas trip Sunday, this time from outraged Palestinian leaders who told The Associated Press that the candidate’s remarks on the difference between the Israeli and Palestinian economies are, at best, misguided and racist at worst.Here are the parts of Romney’s remarks at a fundraiser Monday morning in Israel that have elicited some backlash:
“I was thinking this morning as I prepared to come into this room of a discussion I had across the country in the United States about my perceptions about differences between countries. And as you come here and you see the GDP per capita for instance in Israel which is about 21,000 dollars and you compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority which is more like 10,000 dollars per capita you notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States. […]
Romney then alluded to a point made in “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” a book by former Harvard professor David S. Landes:
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 recognise the power of at least culture and a few other things. One, I recognise the hand of providence in selecting this place.”
The drew a sharp rebuke from Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, among others.
“It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realise that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation,” Erekat told the Associated Press.
“It seems to me this man (Romney) 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.”
The Romney campaign blasted an email to reporters this morning, urging them to consider the “full context of Gov. Romney’s remarks.” Almost immediately after the remarks in question, Romney ended his speech by relaying some of what he’s seen in Israel’s economic triumphs:
“That this is a people that has long recognised the purpose in this place and in their lives that is greater than themselves and their own particular interests, but a purpose of accomplishment and caring and building and serving. There’s also something very unusual about the people of this place. And Dan Senor […] co-author of ‘Start-up Nation,’ described– If you haven’t read the book, you really should– Described why it is Israel is the leading nation for start-ups in the world. And why businesses one after the other tend to start up in this place. And he goes through some of the cultural elements that have led Israel to become a nation that has begun so many businesses and so many enterprises and that is becomes so successful.”
Still, the parallel Romney tries to draw has also been the subject of controversy. Romney actually badly missed the GDP per capita gap: Israeli residents see about $31,000 per capita, while residents of the West Bank and Gaza get by on about $1,500. Meanwhile, Time‘s Karl Vick notes the obvious point of how the Israel-Palestine situation isn’t exactly an apt comparison to other countries:
Mexico is not occupied by the United States, nor Ecuador by Chile. But since 1967 Israel has controlled the economy of the Palestinian territories, restricting movement of people and goods in and out of the territories, collecting excise taxes — and withholding them from the Palestinian Authority to punish its leadership when they are perceived as out of line. The disadvantages of Israel’s situation — the high cost of living, partly because it imports so much from so far away — are passed on to Palestinians, but few of the advantages.
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