Mitt Romney concluded his Israel campaign stop Monday by hosting a fundraiser with about 45 donors, many of whom flew over from the United States to attend the function that raised a reported $1 million for his race to the White House.
Romney praised Israel's "economic vitality" by comparing it to the Palestinian Authority, a comment that quickly elicited criticism for comparing a powerful Middle Eastern state to a population that has been living for years under a blockade.
"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," Romney told attendees.
The Gaza Strip, which is part of the PA, has been under a strict blockade since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power there in 2007. Gaza is home to 1.7 million Palestinians; most of them are impoverished, and many of them consider Hamas an elected body.
Romney's figures are wrong, too.
Israel's 2011 per capita GDP is between $31,000 and $32,000, or about on par with Spain, according to different estimates from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and CIA Factbook. Different estimates for the PA's per capita GDP range between $1,500 and $2,900, putting it economically in roughly the same place as India and Honduras.
Romney's comment quickly attracted criticism on Monday, a day after Romney declared -- as has President Barack Obama -- that Jerusalem should remain an undivided city.
Under a two-state solution, East Jerusalem would become the capital of a Palestinian state, but Israel has continued to settle predominately Arab-Muslim neighborhoods in that part of the city.
"What is this man doing here?" an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the Associated Press, who lambasted Romney's comments comparing Israel to the PA. "Yesterday, he destroyed negotiations by saying Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and today he is saying Israeli culture is more advanced than Palestinian culture. Isn't this racism?"
Not according to those who applauded enthusiastically to his comments.
"This was a love-fest," Phil Rosen, a New York lawyer who helped organize the fundraiser, told the Washington Post.
Romney had previously said to CNN he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem -- an act that would symbolize the United States' recognition of Jerusalem as an undivided capital of the Jewish state and which former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush had refused to do while in office.
Among those who attended the event at Jerusalem's King David Hotel were New York Jets football team owner Woody Johnson and casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who had previously given $10 million to the Romney-supporting Congressional Leadership Fund Super Pac.
In December, Adelson, who owns the tabloid Israel Today, backed the claim by Republican Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich that Palestinians are "an invented people." At an event attended by Jewish youths from different countries, Adelson told them to be goodwill ambassadors for Israel and: "Don't let Muslim student organizations take over the campuses."
Romney also praised Israel's health care system for being more efficient than America's; it spends 8 percent of its GDP on public health compared to 18 percent in the U.S.
Israel has a universal health care system.
To contact the editor, e-mail: