Mitt Romney’s remarks seeming to suggest that cultural differences contribute to the disparate economic circumstances of Israelis and Palestinians caused a bit of a brouhaha, drawing both criticism and support. Now he’s saying that he wasn’t talking about Palestinian culture.
Here’s what he told Fox News (video above):
I’m not speaking about it, did not speak about the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy. That’s an interesting topic that perhaps could deserve scholarly analysis, but I actually didn’t address that. I certainly don’t intend to address that during my campaign. Instead I will point out that the choices a society makes have a profound impact on the economy and the vitality of that society."
Romney made the original remarks yesterday at a fundraiser in Israel. Here’s the New York Times’ summary of his statement and of the official Palestinian response:
In the speech, Mr. Romney mentioned books that had influenced his thinking about nations — particularly “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” by David S. Landes, which, he said, argues that culture is the defining factor in determining the success of a society.
“Culture makes all the difference,” Mr. Romney said. “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.”
He added, “As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. 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. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.”
The remarks, which vastly understated the disparities between the societies, drew a swift rejoinder from Palestinian leaders. In an interview with The Associated Press, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, called Mr. Romney’s remarks racist.
At least one critic argued that Romney’s remarks had the potential to offend not only Palestinians, but also Mexicans. But Romney had his defenders as well, including Newt Gingrich, who during the GOP primaries made his own attention-grabbing comment about Palestinians.