US raps envoy for anti-Semitism comments

US Ambassador to Belgium rejects claims that he “excused” certain types of anti-Semitism, says comments misunderstood.

Howard Gutman (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Howard Gutman
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
US Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman on Sunday rejected claims that he “excused” certain types of anti-Semitism, arguing during a gathering in Brussels that comments he made Thursday were misunderstood.
Nonetheless, Jewish organizations felt the distinction the ambassador drew between traditional and new forms of anti-Semitism accepted bigotry against Jews that stemmed from the Israeli-Arab conflict.
“I strongly condemn anti- Semitism in all its forms,” said the Jewish diplomat, whose father was a Holocaust survivor, in a press release posted on the embassy’s website.
“I deeply regret if my comments were taken the wrong way. My own personal history and that of my family is testimony to the salience of this issue and my continued commitment to combating anti-Semitism.”
Jewish groups were outraged by Gutman’s speech, delivered in the Belgian capital at an event organized by the European Jewish Union on Thursday.
“This second problem [stemming from the Mideast] is in my opinion different in many respects than the classic bigotry – hatred against those who are different and against minorities generally – the type of anti-Semitism that I discussed,” he said, according to a copy of his speech provided by the US Embassy in Brussels.
“It is more complex and requiring much more thought and analysis. This second form of what is labeled ‘growing anti- Semitism’ produces strange phenomena and results.
Peace in the Middle East would indeed equate with a huge reduction of this form of labeled ‘anti-Semitism’ here in Europe.”
One critic said that the envoy’s comments could be used to excuse a range of anti-Semitic behavior.
“Following Gutman’s twisted logic,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, “Christian anti-Semites who insist that their hatred of Jews is based on the fact that the Jewish people failed to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah should also be excused until such time as the underlying reason for that hate – the Jewish people’s refusal to accept Jesus as Messiah – is reversed.”
Gutman’s comments drew a response from the White House on Saturday, which distanced itself from its envoy.
“We condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, and that there is never any justification for prejudice against the Jewish people or Israel,” it said in a statement.