US ambassador accused of 'downplaying' antisemitism

By Nathalie Rothschild, December 8, 2011
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Gutman: antisemitism due to Mid-East conflict

Gutman: antisemitism due to Mid-East conflict

Leading Republicans and Jewish groups are calling for the dismissal of the US ambassador to Belgium following his remarks on antisemitism.

In a speech to a conference organised by the European Jewish Union (EJU) in Brussels last week, Howard Gutman said that Muslim antisemitism in Europe "would clearly abate" if a lasting peace were achieved in the Middle East.

Mr Gutman made a distinction between "classic bigotry" and "hatred and violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews", claiming the latter to be "born of and reflecting" the tension between Israel and the Palestinians.

Jewish groups and commentators in the US have warned that Ambassador Gutman's remarks amount to an apologia for anti-Jewish sentiment and acts.

Tomer Orni, CEO of the EJU, called Gutman's remarks "both naïve and dangerous" while, in a letter to the ambassador, Anti-Defamation League director, Abraham H Foxman, wrote that "this could undermine the important effort to combat the resurgence of antisemitism in Europe."

AJC executive director, David Harris, said: "Muslim antisemitism predates… the creation of the Jewish state itself."

Leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have demanded that President Barack Obama take action against Mr Gutman.

Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, accused the envoy of "rationalising and downplaying antisemitism". Newt Gingrich, a former House Speaker, tweeted: "Pres Obama should fire his ambassador to Brussels for being so wrong about antisemitism".

Texas governor Rick Perry then weighed in, claiming that "Ambassador Gutman's troubling statement is part of a pattern of hostility on the part of the Obama administration toward Israel".

The White House rejected calls to sack Mr Gutman. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the envoy was expressing his personal opinion and insisted: "Our commitment to Israel's security is ironclad."

Mr Gutman, who is the son of a Holocaust survivor, issued a brief statement condemning "antisemitism in all its forms". He said: "My own personal history and that of my family is testimony to the salience of this issue and my continued commitment to combating antisemitism."

US commentators have described Republicans' response to Mr Gutman's remarks as the latest effort to win over Jewish voters ahead of the 2012 election with presidential hopefuls casting the Obama administration as harsh on Israel and soft on the Palestinians.

Last updated: 12:42pm, December 8 2011