The Washington Post

Mitt Romney, at fundraiser in Israel, describes spiritual impact of visit

Mitt Romney held an intimate breakfast fundraiser here Monday with some of his campaign’s biggest benefactors, telling them about the spiritual impact his trip to Israel had had on him.

Seated around a U-shaped conference table with roughly 40 donors, with Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson immediately to his left, Romney said he was “overwhelmingly impressed with the hand of providence.”

“I come to this place, therefore, with a sense of profound humility, as I look around here at great people who’ve accomplished a great thing, and also a sense of spiritual connection, acknowledging the hand of providence in establishing this place and making it a holy city,” Romney said.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee was expected to raise more than $1 million from the donors, who each were required to raise or donate $25,000 to $50,000 to attend the event. All of the donors are U.S. citizens, and many of them flew here from the United States to be with Romney during his 36-hour visit to Jerusalem.

Many of those in attendance at the posh King David Hotel are major bundlers for Romney’s campaign, raising tens of thousands of dollars from their business associates and friends. Adelson, for instance, has personally committed to giving tens of millions of dollars to a pro-Romney super PAC.

Other donors in attendance included hedge fund executive Paul Singer, beef industry executive John Miller, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and lawyer Philip Rosen.

Ann Romney and one of the couple’s sons, Josh, as well as Scott Romney, the candidate’s older brother, also attended, as did national finance chairman Spencer Zwick and his wife, Jenny, and Bob White, one of Romney’s closest friends and founding partner at Bain Capital.

Ann Romney told the donors that the trip to Israel was emotional for her family. She said Josh had never visited Israel before, and she told him at the beginning of the trip that he would be touched at some point — and he was.

“I think your heart would have to be made of stone not to feel what is still here,” Ann Romney said. “And it is a magical place, and it is a place which makes us turn to our inner soul and to our hearts . . . So it is with quiet ears that we can hear and listen to all that is around us and of the beauty and all of the extraordinary history that’s here.”

In his remarks, Mitt Romney contrasted the gross domestic product of Israel with its neighbors in the Middle East.

“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,” Romney said.

Romney cited two books that had influenced his thinking about foreign affairs — “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond and “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations” by David Landes, and he gave a shout-out for “Start-up Nation,” a book one of his senior foreign policy advisers, Dan Senor, wrote about entrepreneurship in Israel.

His comparison brought swift condemnation from Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who told the Associated Press the statement was “racist.”

“This man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation,” Erekat told AP. “It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people. He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.”

Romney separately noted that Israel — which has universal health care — spends just 8 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, while the United States spends 18 percent. “We have to find ways,” he said, “not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to [fund] and manage our health-care costs.”

Romney also boasted of meeting the founder of Under Armour, Maryland native Kevin Plank, last week at the London Olympics. Romney spotted Plank wearing a pullover with the Under Armour logo, and soon discovered he was the founder of the business. Naturally, Romney asked how he had created the company.

“He said he was playing football and the cotton underwear that they would wear would get all moist and crinkled up and create pressure points and so forth, and he decided to go buy some stretchy fabric, cut it and sew it together, which he did and it was very comfortable,” Romney recalled.

Soon, Under Armour had 5,500 people working at the company and making uniforms for professional sports teams.

As Romney told the anecdote to the donors, however, he acknowledged that he had forgotten the founder’s name. So, he told the donors, he had his national finance chairman, Zwick, look him up on Google.

“The individual who was the founder of Under Armour is Kevin — Plake — is that it?” Romney said.

“Plank,” replied Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets.

“You know Kevin?” Romney asked.

“I know Kevin,” Johnson said.

“You know Kevin!” Romney replied. “Did he sell product to the New York Jets?”

“I have his products,” Johnson said.

“You have them!” Romney replied. “Are you wearing his productions — can you demonstrate?”

Johnson declined to provide a demonstration.

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

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