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Ambassador Misquoted, Not Misunderstood

Why Gutman should still get the boot for ‘anti-Semitism’ comments

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I made a mistake yesterday in attributing the following quote to Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium: that there is a difference between traditional anti-Semitism and “Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” It was a misquote that found its way from a Ynet paraphrase to a Haaretz article. A look at Gutman’s prepared remarks reveals he actually referred to a “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.” This problem, he noted—distinguishing it from traditional anti-Semitism—“is more complex and requiring much more thought and analysis.”

So I apologize for that. But I still think this sort of talk is unacceptable, certainly politically and also rhetorically. The defenses are that, first, Gutman is right, and second, that he is still condemning both forms of anti-Semitism. So, according to the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg and Friend-of-The-Scroll Justin Elliott at Salon, Gutman’s analysis echoes others that have found rising anti-Semitism in response to Israel’s existence and specific Israeli policies, such as Operation Cast Lead and the flotilla fiasco. According to the Economist, Gutman simply stated the “bleeding obvious.”

But the problem is not the accuracy of Gutman’s forensic description; it is his subsequent prescription as well as his being the bearer of it. “The largest part of the solution remains in the hands of government leaders in Israel and the Palestinian territories and Arab countries in the Middle East,” Gutman said. Whether or not that’s the equivalent of making an excuse for this second kind of anti-Semitism—which is at least debatable—this sentiment should be abhorrent to diaspora Jews. We are being told not only that our safety and security in our adopted countries is dependent on Israel’s actions, but that this is simply the state of things, them’s the breaks, and the U.S. government is okay with it. This placing of Israel at the center of the Jewish universe is the cousin of an ad campaign that tells Israelis that they are not at home outside Israel. And it’s the sibling of the anti-Semitic belief that Jews everywhere are complicit in Israeli actions. Faced with the fact that Israeli actions exacerbate European anti-Semitism, the responsible thing is to try to fight that linkage, not acquiesce to it. And as an agent of the U.S. government, for Gutman to take this stand is that much more important.

Which leads me to the most obvious point: you are an Obama bundler who is the ambassador to freakin’ Belgium. Your number one job is not to make trouble for the president, your boss, in an election year. I don’t see how you can argue that, in this, Gutman hasn’t failed miserably. This isn’t The West Wing (or, more to the point, it’s tolerating stuff like this that made the Bartlet administration so ineffectual). Given that, the White House’s decision to stand by him cannot help but suggest not only that they agree with what he said but, more, consider his right to theorize about these things to some conference to be more important than getting re-elected. I wrote yesterday that incidents such as this one make questions about where the administration’s heart lies on Israel valid. That was not a mistake.

Thinking About Anti-Semitism in Europe [Belgium Embassy]
U.S. Envoy ‘Blames’ Israel for Bias (Echoing IDF) [Forward]
An Ambassador Smeared [Salon]
A Beleaguered Ambassador [Economist Lexington’s Notebook]
Earlier: Going Rogue or Staying On Messsage?

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for Zlota says:

There seems to be a discrepancy between the “prepared remarks” and the available video of what he actually said.

Can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m getting extremely uncomfortable with the administration’s ‘messaging.’ (So much so I’m actually commenting instead of just privately fuming.)

Shorter Tracy: I was wrong, but words words words

I totally disagree. This is a crazy witch hunt with covered wagons going gang busters with all guns blazing crazy. Gutman should not be booted out. This is crazy, and crazier still, Israel giving Jstreet its orders. Huh?

Jon, exactly my sentiment. Bland verbosity is the mark of a weak argument.

Well said, Marc. For those who think there was nothing wrong with Gutman’s remarks, think about this: If you think Gutman saying that Muslim anti-Semtism is basically caused (or strongly exacerbated) by Israel’s actions, then you also must believe that the primary reason for “Islamophobia” is that Muslims keep committing terrorist acts, and if Islamic terrorism decreased, then Islamophobia would disappear.

Jonathan says:

This is rhetorical game playing, Marc. Calls for Gutman’s ouster are being driven not by the content of his remarks but by the cynical political actors who are seeking to drive a wedge between the Obama Administration and American Jewish voters.

Jeffrey says:

Eric, the primary force behind the major increase in Islamophobia is precisely non-Muslims perception of Islam as religion that supports terrorism and violence. Yes, there must be an underlying prejudice that’s exacerbated by events and social conditions. But it’s much easier to deal with those prejudices when peoples emotions and psyches are not subject to daily political propaganda based on events such as the WTC attack. At what level was Islamophobia in the U.S., prior to 9/11?

Jonathon, not only is it cynical it’s stupid.

fred lapides says:

Arabs do not hate Jews because of Israel. They hate Israel because of Jews.

sharon says:

We seem to forget that Arabs were killing Jews before the phony “Palestine” issue erupted. And lets not forget the Grand Mufti whose BFF was Adolph Hitler.

After reading the Salon article, have to say that I’m afraid you’re succumbing to anti-Obama Republicant manipulation, Marc. When I read the additional quotes from Gutman in Salon, I’m convinced that his is an extremely well-informed, incisive, generous and compassionate voice fighting an uphill battle against the xenophobic distortions that characterize most discourse about Israel, about Palestinians, about our troubled present and agonizingly complex past. Please don’t fall into bed with the Commentary gang and the anti-Obama posse and allow yourself to be used to push harder on the wedge they’re cynically trying to drive between us American Jews and anyone to the left of Newt Gingrich.

henry gottlieb says:

Since when did it become ‘anti’ anything to tell the truth …….
I remember in the 50’s hen all yids were commies and jews controlled all the banks, and wwII was rosenfelds war for the the jews ……

for Zlota says:

Who sliced the wedge?

lazerbeam says:

Mishuginah leftist “logic.”

Alberto Hasson says:

I think you should publish the article by Shemi Shalev (Haaretz) “By today’s standards Rabin was a disgrace”. Though I do not agree that Muslim antisemitism is new (ie. Dhimitude in the muslim world), the Ambassador’s words should not be misconstrued.

salvatore says:

“We are being told not only that our safety and security in our adopted countries is dependent on Israel’s actions”


I guess you’re implying that the ambassador is ambivalent about discrimination against the jewish diaspora in the US or Europe, which seems to be a bit of a reach. Also, the defense you mentioned that “he’s telling the truth” and “he’s condemning both forms of anti-Semitism” sound pretty compelling from where I sit.


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Ambassador Misquoted, Not Misunderstood

Why Gutman should still get the boot for ‘anti-Semitism’ comments

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