U.S. Won't Dismiss Official Following anti-Semitism Comment

Envoy to Belgium comes under fire after linking Israel's policies to spread of anti-Semitism in the Mideast; U.S. official: Ambassador was expressing his own views.

The United States won't take action against the American envoy to Belgium over his recent and controversial comments on anti-Semitism, a top U.S. official said on Monday.

The statement was made following a demand by some Jewish groups and others that United States President Barak Obama take action against Howard Gutman, after the latter had told a conference on anti-Semitism organized by the European Jewish Union that Israel’s political positions serve as an explanation for anti-Semitism amongst Muslims.

Obama at UN luncheon - AP - 21.9.11

“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, who is Jewish, reportedly told those gathered, going on to argue that “…an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty will significantly diminish Muslim anti-Semitism."

His remarks drew criticism from several Jewish organizations that called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to rebuke him. On Sunday, two Republican presidential contenders went further, calling for Gutman's resignation.

On Monday, however, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner indicated that the Administration stood behind Gutman, saying that "the ambassador was expressing his views on an issue. He subsequently issued a statement expressing regret if his remarks were taken out of context. He then said that he does condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms and in fact pointed to his own family history as a testament to that."

"This administration has consistently stood up against anti-Semitism and efforts to
delegitimize Israel and will continue to do so," Toner added.

Toner was referring in his comments to a statement released by Gutman on Sunday, in which he stressed that he condemned anti-Semitism “in all its forms”, adding: “I deeply regret if my comments were taken the wrong way. My own personal history and that of my family is testimony to the salience of this issue and my continued commitment to combating anti-Semitism.”