Obama's man comes up with the default BBC line

By Robin Shepherd, December 8, 2011
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The Obama administration has long been viewed with suspicion by Israel's supporters, but outbursts from two of the president's senior associates earlier this month have caused one of the biggest storms on matters Jewish since he took office.

The first came from Howard Gutman, a major fundraiser for Obama who now serves as ambassador to Belgium. Speaking at a European Jewish Union conference on antisemitism in Brussels, Gutman shocked his audience by appearing to whitewash Muslim antisemitism.

He made a distinction between "classic bigotry" and "hatred and violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews". Gutman explained the latter as "born of and reflecting" the tension between Israel and the Palestinians. He added that "the largest part of the solution for this second type of problem – too often lumped under a general banner of anti-Semitism – is in the hands of Israel, the Palestinians and Arab neighbours in the Middle East."

That, of course, doesn't even work at the factual level. The evidence is clear that many Muslims despise the state of Israel and would be as likely to blame a peace agreement on a global Jewish conspiracy to hoodwink the Palestinians as a reason to drop their prejudices.

On the moral level, as Rabbi Marvin Hier from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre said of the remarks: "Following Gutman's twisted logic… Christian antisemites who insist that their hatred of Jews is based on the fact that the Jewish people failed to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah should also be excused until such time as the underlying reason for that hate - the Jewish people's refusal to accept Jesus as Messiah - is reversed."

The Obama administration quickly moved to distance itself from Gutman's remarks but no sooner had it done so than it was having to deal with a new furore following a broadside from Defence Secretary Leon Panetta. At a gathering in Washington, he said Israel needed to "get to the damned table" with the Palestinians and "mend fences" with Turkey and Egypt.

Since it is the Palestinians who refuse to negotiate, since Turkey has unilaterally downgraded the relationship with Israel, and since Egypt is on the verge of electing the fanatical antisemites of the Muslim Brotherhood, Panetta's remarks have unsurprisingly provoked outrage among Israel's supporters.

The common theme in the thinking of both men is that it is Israeli behaviour that is problematic. The behaviour, however appalling, of Muslims is largely to be overlooked. Sound familiar? It should do. For these are also the default assumptions about the Middle East of the Foreign Office and the BBC.

Robin Shepherd is Director, International Affairs, at The Henry Jackson Society

Last updated: 12:41pm, December 8 2011