Reports that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said at a fundraiser in Jerusalem that "culture" is among the reasons Israel's economy is much stronger than those in "areas managed by the Palestinian Authority" have led a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to accuse Romney of racism.
"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," Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told The Associated Press.
Now, Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul has told the AP that the candidate's words "were grossly mischaracterized." The wire service adds that:
"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."
According to the Los Angeles Times and other news outlets, in his remarks Romney talked about the books Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond and The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes.
Landes' book, as the Times writes, "argues for the importance of cultural differences" in assessing why some nations' economies perform better than others.
"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 told the audience, the AP and others report.
The AP notes that "the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund repeatedly have said that the Palestinian economy can only grow if Israel lifts ... restrictions ... [on] Palestinian trade and movement." Israeli leaders have viewed such restrictions as necessary for their nation's security.
Romney has been on an international trip that has taken him from London, to Israel and now on to Poland. Our colleague Frank James at the It's All Politics blog earlier posted about how the London visit wasn't "a smashing success."