Monday, December 5, 2011

US Embassy Belgium: Ambassador Gutman in Very Hot Soup Over Anti-Semitism Speech

So the American Ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman gave a speech on November 30  on Thinking About Anti-Semitism in Europe during the "Conference on Fighting Anti-Semitism in Europe: What is Next?"

Before you know it, the Euro wave got here and our political ambassador to Brussels ran smack into 2012 politics. On Saturday, Newt Gingrich, this week's GOP front runner tweeted:

@newtgingrich Newt Gingrich
Pres Obama should fire his ambassador to Brussels for being so wrong about anti-semitism:
WaPo reports that GOP sort of perpetual front-runner Mitt Romney (not to be outdone by the Newt) also called for Ambassador Gutman's firing on Sunday: “President Obama must fire his ambassador to Belgium for rationalizing and downplaying anti-Semitism and linking it to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.”

I'm just waiting for Michele Bachmann to say, "If I were president, Ambassador Gutman would be packing his bags already."

Of course, Rick Perry would say, "Send this ambassador to some god-awful place."

What did Ambassador Gutman say that is roiling the political crowd? Excerpt below:
There is and has long been some amount of anti-Semitism, of hatred and violence against Jews, from a small sector of the population who hate others who may be different or perceived to be different, largely for the sake of hating. Those anti-Semites are people who hate not only Jews, but Muslims, gays, gypsies, and likely any who can be described as minorities or different. That hatred is of course pernicious and it must be combated. We can never take our eye off it or just dismiss it as fringe elements or the work of crazy people, because we have seen in the past how it can foment and grow. And it is that hatred that lawyers like you can work vigilantly to expose, combat and punish, maybe in conjunction with existing human rights groups.

I have not personally seen much of that hatred in Europe, though it rears its ugly head from time to time. I do not have any basis to think it is growing in any sense. But of course, we can never take our eye off of it, and you particularly as lawyers can help with that process.
What I do see as growing, as gaining much more attention in the newspapers and among politicians and communities, is a different phenomena. It is the phenomena that led Jacques Brotchi to quit his position on the university committee a couple of months ago and that led to the massive attention last week when the Jewish female student was beaten up. It is the 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.
[T]he longest and loudest ovation I have ever received in Belgium came from the high school with one of the largest percentages of students of Arab heritage. It was in Molenbeek. It consisted of an audience dominated by girls with head scarves and boys named Mohammed, standing and cheering boisterously for a Jewish American, who belongs to two schuls and whose father was a Holocaust survivor. Let me just share a minute or two with you of a video clip from that visit.

These kids were not anti-Semitic as I have ever thought of the term. And I get a similar reaction as I engage with imans, at Iftars, and with Muslims communities throughout Belgium.

Here is the link to the video from  Molenbeek taken on May 25, 2010 at the Royal Athenee Serge Creuz where students welcomed Ambassador Gutman to their school in Molenbeek (Brussels) and sang the American and Belgian national athems for him.

ABC News quotes William Kristol, chairman of the Emergency Committee for Israel, who charged that this is part of a larger problem for President Obama.
“Pardon us for retaining our belief that Muslim anti-Semitism in the Middle East predates 1967, and even 1948 — and in any case is the fault of the anti-Semites, not of the Jews,” said Kristol. “Ambassador Gutman’s comments were not way out of line with Obama’s worldview. Nonetheless, we expect he will be recalled because the Obama administration won’t want to expend political capital defending him. He should be recalled, of course. But what the events of recent days emphasize is that the problem is not with one ambassador or with one cabinet secretary. The problem is President Obama.”

On Sunday, the US Embassy in Brussels released the following statement from Ambassador Howard Gutman: “I strongly condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms. 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.”

Jennifer Rubin over in WaPo calls this a lack of sympatico and note that the comments were not spontaneous, but written in advance. "Was it vetted? And if so shouldn’t that person be canned as well, unless of course the administration agrees with his views?"

Uh-oh! How about the person who posted it online? The next thing you know, she'd want that person canned as well.  Will anyone be left standing on the carpet over there in Brussels?

We note that Ambassador Gutman has traveled all over Belgium; he did not pluck this idea out of thin air.   And if he is not "way out of line with Obama’s worldview" then he can reasonably be expected to stay put in Brussels.  Except that we are now amidst the huff and puff of an election year, with just 11 months to go. And stranger things happen during election years ....

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