Hours after returning to the United States from a three-country foreign trip, Mitt Romney on Tuesday defended his remark at a Jerusalem fundraiser that Israel’s economic strength is due to its superior “culture,” a statement for which the presumptive GOP nominee was sharply criticized both at home and abroad.
In an op-ed in National Review Online, Romney argued that at Monday’s event, he had “suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity.”
He went on to cite a number of features that he had mentioned at a Chicago fundraiser in March, including Americans’ “work ethic, our appreciation for education, our willingness to take risks, our commitment to honor and oath, our family orientation, our devotion to a purpose greater than ourselves, our patriotism.”
“But,” he added, “one feature of our culture that propels the American economy stands out above all others: freedom.”
The op-ed, which was published online the evening of Romney’s return to Boston, hinges on two words not uttered by the former Massachusetts governor at Monday’s fundraiser in Jerusalem: “choices” and “freedom.”
Romney’s initial remark was met with anger by Palestinian officials; a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the Post that Romney’s comment portrayed Palestinians as “an inferior culture,” an argument that amounted to “really a racist sentiment.”
At the breakfast fundraiser where he made the remark, Romney also misstated the gross domestic product of both Israel and the Palestinian territories; he said that Israel’s GDP was “about $21,000” and that the Palestinian area’s is “more like $10,000 per capita.”
According to the World Bank, Israel’s GDP is $31,282 and that of the Palestinian territories is roughly $1,600.
With Tuesday’s op-ed, Romney is doubling down on his “culture” remark rather than shying away from it. As he returns to a campaign that is once again becoming dominated by speculation over the announcement of his potential running mate, it remains to be seen whether Romney’s clarification will spark further debate or quell it.