Republican front-runners slam US envoy’s remarks

White House distances itself from Howard Gutman’s comments, but doesn’t deliver public reprimand.

Newt Gingrich 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Newt Gingrich 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – In a weekend news cycle dominated by the “suspension” of Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s campaign and the conspicuous absence of a candidates’ debate, Republican front-runners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich found common ground, demanding the resignation of US Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman.
Both candidates called Sunday for the removal of the ambassador, who was heavily criticized for comments made at a meeting of the European Jewish Union in which he said that anti-Semitism among Muslims was “a result of the continuing tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories and other Arab neighbors in the Middle East.”
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The Romney campaign responded first, issuing a statement in which the candidate said that “President [Barack] Obama must fire his ambassador to Belgium for rationalizing and downplaying anti-Semitism and linking it to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.”
Gingrich, who is considered to be the most likely inheritor of Cain’s conservative supporters, also responded, via social networking. The former Speaker of the House Tweeted his approximately 1.3 million followers that “Pres Obama should fire his ambassador to Brussels for being so wrong about anti-Semitism.”
The White House on Saturday night distanced itself from Gutman’s comments, but did not deliver a public reprimand for the remarks.
Despite the administration’s response, a number of Jewish and right-wing bloggers drew ties between Gutman’s comments and comments made over the weekend by both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, all seen as being critical of Israel.
At the crack of dawn Washington time Monday, the State Department released remarks made Friday by Hannah Rosenthal, the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.
Speaking before the US Helsinki Commission, Rosenthal presented her findings, beginning by stating “the Obama administration is unwavering in its commitment to combat hate and promote tolerance in our world,” recalling Obama’s Cairo speech as well as his visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp.
“Anti-Semitism is one such form of hatred rooted in historical forces that go far beyond any current policy debate,” said Rosenthal, like Gutman, the child of a Holocaust survivor. “I have dedicated my life to eradicating anti-Semitism and intolerance with a sense of urgency and passion that only my father could give me.”
For the past two years, Rosenthal and her staff have been examining and analyzing anti- Semitism in today’s Europe.
“More than six decades after the end of the Second World War, anti-Semitism is still alive and well and evolving into new, contemporary forms of religious hatred, racism, and political, social and cultural bigotry. According to reports done by the governments of Norway, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom there is a disturbing increase in anti- Semitism,” she said.
Rosenthal isolated six current streams of anti-Semitism alive in Europe, noting that “traditional forms of anti-Semitism are passed from one generation to the next, and sometimes updated to reflect current events.”
Rosenthal cited modern uses of the blood libel and of conspiracy theories such as Jewish control of the US media and the world banking system, or that Jews were involved in executing the September 11 attacks.
“In October 2011, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Europe identified approximately 20 anti-Semitic texts on display at the prestigious 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair,” she warned.
Other trends included Holocaust denial, Holocaust glorification, Holocaust relativism, growing xenophobic nationalist movements and the blurring of the lines between opposition to the policies of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism.
“What I hear from our diplomatic missions, and from non-governmental organizations alike, is that this happens easily and often. I want to be clear – legitimate criticism of policies of the State of Israel is not anti-Semitism. We do record huge increases in anti- Semitic acts whenever there are hostilities in the Middle East,” said Rosenthal.
“This form of anti-Semitism is more difficult for many to identify. But if all Jews are held responsible for the decisions of the sovereign State of Israel, this is not objecting to a policy – this is hatred of the collective Jew or anti-Semitism.”