The firestorm over the assertion made last week by Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, that one must draw a distinction between Arab Jew-hatred and “traditional” anti-Semitism won’t be put out by his disingenuous attempt to explain himself. Gutman distinguished Arab anti-Semitism from other variants of this prejudice because it is caused by Israeli policies rather than stemming from the demons of the Muslim world that have given rise to extremist and terrorist groups.
In a subsequent statement, Gutman failed to apologize and merely claimed his remarks were “taken the wrong way.” He then said his status as the son of a Holocaust survivor gives him impunity on the subject. But there was no misunderstanding here. He directly blamed Israel for anti-Semitism in Europe and said Arab hate of Jews was different from that of previous generations of haters. Gutman also explicitly said “every new settlement announced in Israel” and “every retaliatory military strike” undertaken by the Israelis “provides a setback for those fighting hatred and bigotry in here in Europe.” That he coupled his condemnation of Israel along with swipes at Palestinians doesn’t get him off the hook. By doing so, he treated Israeli home building with murder and its right of self-defense with terrorism.
Gutman’s placing blame on Israel for European anti-Semitism was not a matter of interpretation or even an off the cuff remark. He opened his remarks last Wednesday to the European Jewish Congress announcing he was going to say things they might not like. He was not wrong. According to the original account of the speech published by Ynet, the “audience was visibly stunned.”
It should also be pointed out that Gutman is not an ingénue when it comes to expressing his views. A Washington “superlawyer” who bought his title of ambassador with massive contributions to President Obama’s campaign, he is an experienced and highly successful litigator. His smear of Israel was a considered opinion that was part of his prepared remarks.
It also bears mentioning that Gutman’s “credentials” as the son of a survivor cannot be allowed to excuse his egregious smear of the Jewish state. Any attempt to try and differentiate the hate that took the lives of six million European Jews during the Holocaust from the current vision that seeks the murder of six million Israeli Jews provides a rationale for Islamist extremism. Attempts to blame Israel for the ideological anti-Semitism that has found a new home in the Arab and Muslim worlds in the last century is no more justified than those who sought to blame European Jews for their victimization. That Gutman would not point out that those who wish to deny Israel’s right to exist or self-defense are bigots pure and simple shows how out of touch he is with the nature of this hatred. But it is consistent with Obama’s record of treating Israeli policies as the cause for the continuance of the Middle East conflict.
If the administration is paying attention, Gutman will be quickly recalled. A failure to do so will provide fodder to Republicans who are already poised to exploit the ongoing tension between Obama and Israel in next year’s presidential election.
But, as I wrote yesterday, coming as it did only a couple of days before the secretary of defense made it clear he blamed Israel for its isolation as Islamist parties grew in influence in the Arab world, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Gutman’s comments represent the opinion of this White House. Just as the president’s off-hand comments insulting Prime Minister Netanyahu in an open microphone exchange with French President Sarkozy revealed the depth of his animosity, so too do Gutman and Panetta’s blasts demonstrate that this administration instinctively blames Israel for the hatred of those who seek to destroy it.