Jewish Groups in Furor Over Remarks on anti-Semitism by U.S. Envoy in Belgium

U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman said Muslim anti-Semitism stems from Israel-Palestine conflict; White House issues statement condemning all forms of anti-Semitism.

PARIS - A number of Jewish groups led calls Sunday demanding U.S. President Barak Obama take action against his ambassador to Belgium, following comments the envoy made to the effect that Israel's political positions serve as an explanation for anti-Semitism among Muslims.

Ambassador Howard Gutman, who is Jewish, made the controversial remarks at a conference on anti-Semitism organized by the European Jewish Union in Brussels last week.

"A distinction should be made between traditional anti-Semitism, which should be condemned, and Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians," Gutman reportedly told those gathered, going on to argue that "an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty will significantly diminish Muslim anti-Semitism."

In reaction to the uproar, the White House released a statement distancing itself from Gutman: "We condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, and that there is never any justification for prejudice against the Jewish people or Israel," read the statement, which was sent out over the weekend to Jewish leaders.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich joined those arguing that a verbal rebuke was not enough. "Pres Obama should fire his ambassador to Brussels for being so wrong about anti-Semitism," Gingrich tweeted over the weekend.

Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matthew Brooks said Gutman's words were not a far leap from what Obama has expressed himself. "The linkage in the ambassador's remarks, blaming Israel for anti-Semitism, is a short step from the linkage that President Obama has expressed several times himself, that Israel is to blame for the unrest and instability in the Middle East," he said. "Both forms of linkage are fundamentally wrong."

Gutman, a lawyer by profession, was appointed ambassador to Belgium after being a major fundraiser for Obama's 2008 election campaign.