Over the weekend, a handful of news reports claimed that Howard Gutman, the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, blamed Israel for anti-Semitism and failed to condemn anti-Jewish bigotry espoused by Muslims at a European conference on anti-Semitism. “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,” Haaretz wrote that Gutman “reportedly” said. Haaretz appeared to be quoting a Ynet News paraphrase of Gutman’s remarks, which doesn’t reflect what the ambassador actually said.
Before even checking the facts, a number of high-profile Republicans called on Gutman to be fired or to resign. “President Obama must fire his ambassador to Belgium for rationalizing and downplaying anti-Semitism and linking it to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians,” said Mitt Romney. “Pres Obama should fire his ambassador to Brussels for being so wrong about anti-semitism,” tweeted Newt Gingrich.
And yet what all these Republicans and other right-wingers calling for Gutman to be fired failed to do was actually read the full remarks that he delivered. According to a transcript of his speech, Gutman — who is Jewish and whose father survived the Holocaust — clearly condemns Muslim anti-Semitism, saying that it is a “serious problem” and that no Jewish student should ever feel intimidated on a college campus, for example. He simply argues that this growing anti-Semitism and tension between Arabs and Jews in Europe is partly a result of the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict:
What I do see as growing, as gaining much more attention in the newspapers and among politicians and communities, is a different phenomena. … It is the problem within Europe of tension, hatred and sometimes even violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews. It is a tension and perhaps hatred largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem. It too is a serious problem. It too must be discussed and solutions explored. No Jewish student — and no Muslim student or student of any heritage or religion — should ever feel intimidated on a University campus for their heritage or religion leading to academic leaders quitting in protest. No high school or grammar school Jewish student — and no Muslim high school or grammar school student or student of any heritage or religion — should be beaten up over their heritage or religion.
Gutman goes on to argue that “Israel, the Palestinians and Arab neighbors in the Middle East” have the power to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and resolve tensions between Arabs and Jews worldwide. There is nothing bigoted about this conclusion. In no way did Gutman excuse or justify Muslim anti-Semitism. And the AP reported today that the Obama administration agrees, saying “it has full confidence” in Gutman and that he will “remain in his post.”