Envoy blames Muslim antisemitism on Israel

Ambassador Howard Gutman

Ambassador Howard Gutman

The US ambassador to Belgium has had his remarks condemned by the Obama administration after he suggested that Muslim antisemitism occurred because of Israel's actions.

During a speech to a Jewish audience, Ambassador Howard Gutman said that he considered there to be "a distinction…between traditional antisemitism which should be condemned and Muslim hatred of Jews which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians".

He said that a peace treaty would remove some of the causes of Muslim antisemitism.

His remarks were criticised for excusing Muslim hatred of Jews by human rights organisation the Simon Wiesenthal Centre

Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, respectively the dean and associate dean of the centre, said the remarks amounted to "a moral free pass to extremists whose hate of Jews besmirches the Muslim religion and has spawned violent hatred against Jews across the Middle East and beyond".

They said that Mr Gutman's argument could be used by Christian antisemites who would "insist that their hatred of Jews [was] based on the fact that the Jewish people failed to acknowledge Jesus as Messsiah."

The White House response by stating that there could never be "any justification for prejudice against the Jewish people or Israel".

But Mr Gutman, the son of a Holocaust survivor, said he regretted his comments and that they had been misinterpreted. He added that he had "an unwavering commitment to fight antisemitism".

This week the Anti-Defamation League, a US hate monitor, criticised US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta for placing "disproportionate responsibility on Israel for the campaign of hostility against her" in a speech to the 2011 Saban Forum, a US and Israeli policy conference.

Mr Panetta said Israel should end the "isolation" in the Middle East and insinuated that Israel was responsible for its tense relationship with Turkey, Egypt and the Palestinians.

Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director, said that given that the Obama administration "knows firsthand of the Palestinian rejection of the Quartet's initiatives, Turkey's years-long shift away from its alliance with Israel, and the campaign to isolate Israel in the UN", the comments were unjustified and "a step backward…at precisely the wrong time."

Last updated: 11:49am, December 5 2011