GDANSK, Poland - A top Palestinian aide accused Mitt Romney today of making a "racist statement" when comparing the economic vitality of the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the Romney campaign said his remarks were "grossly mischaracterized."
Romney's statement, the Palestinian said, appeared to credit Israel's higher income to cultural differences.
"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.
"It seems to me this man (Romney) lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people," Erekat said. "He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority."
During his time in Israel Romney met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but did not meet with Abbas.
The criticism came as Romney left Israel and landed in Poland on the third leg of his international tour.
The Romney campaign said the candidate's remarks were "grossly mischaracterized," pointing to previous statements by the presumptive nominee in which he has discussed nearby nations with vastly different economies. The campaign also circulated a transcript of Romney's remarks at the private fundraiser, a move they usually reserve for public events only.
At the fundraiser today at the King David hotel in Jerusalem, Romney said, "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."
"And that exists also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador; Mexico and the United States," Romney added.
Then, mentioning the book "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations," Romney said the author had made the point about culture and how it "makes all the difference."
"And as I come here and I look out over this city 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," said Romney at the fundraiser.
Romney did not mention how the Palestinian territories have historically been at an economic disadvantage because of their isolation at times from the global economy.