Jewish Groups Demand Obama Action Over Belgium Envoy's anti-Semitism Remarks

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.

Danna Harman
Danna Harman
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Danna Harman
Danna Harman

Some Jewish groups and others were demanding Sunday that United States President Barak Obama take action against his ambassador to Belgium, following comments the envoy made to the effect that Israels political positions serve as some sort of explanation for anti-Semitism amongst 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.

U.S. President Barack Obama. Credit: AP

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 comments, and the subsequent uproar they caused, the White House released a statement distancing itself from Gutman's words: "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.

But 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 on his account.

Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matthew Brooks echoed these sentiments, adding that: "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. Both forms of linkage are fundamentally wrong.

The Anti-Defamation also criticized Gutman's comments. In a letter to Gutman, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman wrote, This assessment of Muslim anti-Semitism, and your attempt to distinguish it from traditional or classical anti-Semitism, is not only wrongheaded but could undermine the important effort to combat the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe."

When one tries to attribute this anti-Semitism to outside forces – in this case the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict – one not only misunderstands the role of anti-Semitism in that conflict, but provides an unacceptable rationale for inaction," wrote Foxman.

Gutman, a lawyer by profession, was appointed ambassador to Belgium after raising major funds for Obamas 2008 elections campaign.

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