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In Israel speech, Romney outrages Arabs by crediting Jewish 'culture,' 'Providence' for economy


Mitt Romney told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who called his comments racist and out of touch.

"As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, 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," the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who breakfasted around a U-shaped table at the luxurious King David Hotel.

The economic disparity between the Israelis and the Palestinians is actually much greater than Romney stated. Israel had a per capita gross domestic product of about $31,000 in 2011, while the West Bank and Gaza had a per capita GDP of just over $1,500, according to the World Bank.

"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," Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the "hand of providence.".....

The reaction of Palestinian leaders to Romney's comments was swift and pointed.

"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," said Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The AP notes that Romney didn't mention the Israaeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. It didn't point out that Israel has actually built a wall and that Israel receives more than $3 billion annually from the United States, which has the effect of a roughly $500-per-person subsidy from U.S. taxpayers for each Israeli citizen. The Palestinians receive no direct U.S. aid.

Politically speaking, Romney's comments probably have little downside.

Romney donors like gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson, who was in attendance, donate for this very reason; the chances that Arab Americans would have been voting for Romney were slim anyway; and Romney's campaigning hard for the Jewish vote, which skews liberal but becomes far more conservative when it comes to hardline positions on Israel. A Gallup poll found Romney trailing President Obama 68-25 percent among Jewish voters. That's a small shift in Obama's favor from June, when the president led 64-29. Still, Obama probably needs to do better. Nationally, he topped John McCain in 2008 among Jewish voters by 78-21.

There is a question of how much this all really means in actual vote terms. Only one state with a heavy Jewish population is up for grabs: Florida. And Jewish voters probably cast about 6 percent of the ballots (according to 2008 exit polls and population estimates. Overall, Florida has about 640,000 Jews, who account for about 3.4 percent of the state's overall population).

That means about 500,000 Jewish voters cast ballots in Florida in 2008, 362,000 for Obama and 136,000 for McCain (based on a 72-27% split, which accounts for the slightly more Republican flavor of Florida Jewish voters as expressed in the previous state exit poll compared to national results).

If Obama's Jewish support drops to 68 percent in Florida, he loses 20,000 votes. That's not a huge amount in an 8.4 million-voter election like 2008, but it accounts for almost 9 percent of Obama's victory margin. If you were to reverse the Jewish-vote performance in Florida by giving McCain 75% and Obama 25%, then McCain would have won. But the chances that the overwhelmingly liberal Jewish community will flip like this are exceedingly slim.

Note: These are all estimates based on the past presidential election, and there's a good chance the turnout this time around will be lower (based on all the negativity). So take these estimates as just that: estimates. This blog has been updated