U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman may not have been quoted correctly. But his November 30 comments about Muslim anti-Semitism have now gone beyond serving as Republican ammunition against the Obama administration and spilled over to include criticism from Democrats and Jewish organizations.
To be sure, Republicans were the first to blast the diplomat after Israeli press reports that he had told the European Jewish Union in Brussels last week that “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.” Israeli news outlets related that Gutman had told his audience that “…an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty will significantly diminish Muslim anti-Semitism.” While the first report, on the website Ynet, reported these as paraphrased these remarks, the Israeli daily Haaretz later put them in quotes.
The comments kicked off a furor among Republicans, with presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry demanding that Gutman be fired.
But New York Democrat Gary Ackerman, speaking to The Washington Post Tuesday about the incident, stated, “there is no difference between the anti-Semites who hate Jews because they hate Jews and those who feel a need to cite a reason for their hateful anti-Semitism. Anyone who thinks they are different is simply anti-Semitic.”
The National Jewish Democratic Council’s president and CEO also weighed in, calling Gutman’s comments “wrong and unfortunate.”
These comments seem to take the Gutman controversy a step beyond the election-oriented political debate that was kicked off by the Republican candidates, and by GOP activists such as William Kristol.
The heat, however, has yet to reach the administration. The White House and State Department, while making clear they condemn any expression of anti-Semitism, are so far backing the embattled ambassador, who is the Jewish child of a Holocaust survivor, and a major Obama donor.
But while political bashing of the ambassador to Belgium continues, little attention is paid to his actual comments. As noted by J.J. Goldberg and even by Fox News the initial claims against Gutman were based on a Hebrew report about his address and the full transcript suggests that the ambassador at best presented a concept that has been voiced in the past, even by Israeli officials and in an annual report on anti-Semitism produced by the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank sponsored by the Jewish Agency.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.