Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, set off a fire storm Monday morning after he made comments regarding the origin of anti-Semitism.
The American press got hold of Gutman’s statements this week which were reportedly made last Wednesday, after Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli newspaper, first broke the story. Gutman, a Jew, was speaking at a Jewish conference on the topic of anti-Semitism. The conference was organized by the European Jewish Union.
His remarks sought to make a distinction between “traditional” anti-Semitism and anti-Semitism brought about by the “ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
The European Jewish Press provided a transcript of Gutman’s remarks:
“A distinction should be made between traditional anti-Semitism, which should be condemned, and Muslim hatred for Jewish people, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
“There is significant anger and resentment and, yes, perhaps sometimes hatred and indeed sometimes an all too growing intimidation and violence directed at Jews, generally as a result of the continuing tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories and other Arab neighbors in the Middle East.”
According to Yedioth Ahronoth, Gutman apologized in advance to his audience if his words were “not to their liking.” It is also reported that the Jewish members, mostly lawyers, in attendance were “visibly stunned” by the ambassador’s words. The speaker after Gutman ripped into the ambassador.
“The modern Anti-Semite formally condemns Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust and expresses upmost sympathy with the Jewish people. He simply has created a new species, the “Anti-Zionist” or – even more sophisticated – the so-called ‘Israel critic,’” Germany attorney Nathan Gelbart said, according to Yedioth Ahronoth.
“The ‘Israel critic’ will never state ‘Jews go home’ but is questioning the legality of the incorporation of the State of Israel and therefore the right for the Jewish people to settle in their homeland. He will not say the Jews are the evil of the world but claim that the State of Israel is a major cause for instability and war in the region,” he said. “There is no other country, no other people on this planet the ‘Israel critic’ would dedicate so much time and devotion as to the case of Israel.”
“For no other country he would criticize or ask to boycott its goods or academics. And this for one simple reason: Because Israel is the state of the Jewish people, not more and not less.”
After Gutman’s remarks, the White House released a statement, saying, “We condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms … There is never any justification for prejudice against the Jewish people or Israel.”
Gutman, outside of being an ambassador, is a lawyer and a major fundraiser for the Democratic Party. He was appointed to his current posting as ambassador by President Obama.
On Sunday, he issued a statement on the U.S. Embassy in Belgium’s website expressing some regret that his words were “taken the wrong way.”
However, the GOP is already jumping on this controversy and many pundits are saying that the ambassador’s statements reflect Obama’s “hostility” toward Israel. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, both GOP front-runners for the 2012 presidential election, called for Obama to relinquish the ambassador of his duties.
“President Obama must fire his ambassador to Belgium for rationalizing and downplaying anti-Semitism and linking it to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians,” former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said in a statement, according to The Washington Post.
"The ambassador's comments demonstrate the Obama administration's failure to understand the worldwide campaign to delegitimize Israel and its appalling penchant for undermining our close ally,” Romney told Fox News.
The former Speaker of the House agrees with his opponent and called for Gutman to step down. On Saturday, Gingrich tweeted: “Pres Obama should fire his ambassador to Brussels for being so wrong about anti-Semitism.”
According to a Gallup Poll released in September, Obama’s approval rating among the Jewish population has steadily decreased.