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Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 12/06/2011

A Gutman backlash — except in the White House

The reaction to Ambassador Howard Gutman’s ludicrous assertions on anti-Semitism has been swift and harsh, except from the administration, which bizarrely embraced Gutman.

On Saturday the White House issued a statement blandly saying that the administration opposes anti-Semitism in all forms. “We condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, and that there is never any justification for prejudice against the Jewish people or Israel.” Gutman was not publicly chastised.

At the State Department briefing yesterday there was this exchange:

Q: I'll start with Ambassador Gutman's speech from last week.Does the — did the administration sign off on this, or was it vetted by anyone in EUR or NEA? And does the administration agree with the sentiments that he expressed in his speech?
MR. TONER: I think you saw — actually, let me start again. I'm not aware that his remarks were cleared back here in Washington. He made very clear in a subsequent statement that they were his thoughts or his remarks. He did condemn — he — and was very vocal about condemning anti-Semitism in all its forms, and I believe he expressed regret that his words might have been taken out of context. . . .
Q: I don't know — it's a pretty easy question. Yes or no?
MR. TONER: It is a — it is — it is — it was his remarks. It was his opinion —
Q: So he wasn't speaking on — the ambassador to Belgium, he was not speaking —
MR. TONER: He was not speaking on behalf — I think he's said as much. He said it was his remarks and he was speaking on his own —
Q: No, he didn't. He did not say that. He — but he was no speaking on behalf of the U.S. government?
MR. TONER: I don't believe so.
Q: So the — OK, the ambassador to Belgium shows up at a conference in Europe, in Belgium, and he is not speaking on behalf of the U.S. government. Is that correct?
MR. TONER: The ambassador was expressing his views on an issue.
Q: They're not the view — so these —
MR. TONER: He subsequently — he subsequently issued a statement clarifying that he was — and expressing regret if his remarks were taken out of context. He then said that he does condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms and in fact pointed to his own family history as a — as a testament to that.
Q: So are you — well, I understand that. But you're saying that he was speaking as a private citizen, not as the U.S. ambassador?
MR. TONER: Well, of course, when — any time an ambassador speaks, he is representing the United States. . . .
Q: Can I just follow up briefly on that? Some Republicans have called for the administration to fire Ambassador Gutman. Is there — does the administration have a response to that, have a position on —
MR. TONER: We have full confidence in him.

That is actually a fraction of the excruciating back-and-forth. But the bottom line is the administration is sticking by its man.

Pro-Israel activist and former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block had this response: “This is a very disappointing set of comments from the State Department, which refused to condemn the remarks from the Obama appointee and campaign bundler who said, speaking as US ambassador, that there are two kinds of anti-Semitism. Contrary to his comments, all violence and against jews is anti-Semitism, not ‘anti-Semitism’ in quotes! And is the fault of the society where it occurs, not caused by the justification of its perpetrators. “ He blasted the administration as well: “The Ambassador’s comments were reprehensible, and so is the State Department’s refusal to condemn them directly, and to recall this representative of the American people. Rather than seek to make excuses for anti-Semitism, and promote its justification, Mr. Gutman should spend his breath condemning those who countenance such violence.”

Likewise, the Anti-Defamation League unloaded:

In a letter to Ambassador Howard W. Gutman, the League called his November 30 presentation in Brussels to a conference of lawyers organized by the European Jewish Union, “wrongheaded” and said that it “provides an unacceptable rationale for inaction” against anti-Semitism.
“This assessment of Muslim anti-Semitism, and your attempt to distinguish it from traditional or classical anti-Semitism, is not only wrongheaded but could undermine the important effort to combat the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe,” wrote Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “When one tries to attribute this anti-Semitism to outside forces – in this case the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict — one not only misunderstands the role of anti-Semitism in that conflict, but provides an unacceptable rationale for inaction.”
Mr. Foxman added, “Anti-Semitism, indeed Muslim anti-Semitism, was alive and well before the creation of Israel. Indeed, the extreme reaction to an independent Jewish state to this day in the Muslim world is connected to anti-Jewish attitudes that persisted for centuries. If the problem was that the Middle East conflict was coming to Europe, then Europe would be seeing attacks on Muslims by Jews, as well as Muslim attacks on Jews. Of course, there are no attacks by Jews against Muslims.”

The administration is going to have a tough time defending its unnecessary and foolish refusal to throw Gutman overboard. Sen. Joe Lieberman’s communications director e-mailed me this response: “Senator Lieberman believes that Ambassador Gutman’s remarks about anti-Semitism were unjustifiable and ahistorical. His view is that it is inexcusable to offer rationalizations for anti-Semitism or any other form of bigotry or hatred.” Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) told Right Turn: “There is no difference between the anti-Semites who hate Jews because they hate Jews and those who feel a need to cite a reason for their hateful anti-Semitism. Anyone who thinks they are different is simply anti-Semitic.”

Over the weekend the Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich campaigns called for Gutman’s firing. Monday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry followed suit with this reaction: “Ambassador Gutman’s troubling statement is part of a pattern of hostility on the part of the Obama administration toward Israel. In the same week that Ambassador Gutman excused anti-Semitism because of Israel’s refusal to accommodate Palestinian demands, President Obama’s Secretary of Defense ranted that the Israelis must get back to the ‘d*** table’ for negotiations, and his Secretary of State insinuated that Israel’s democracy is less than viable because of gender-related debates between religious and secular segments of Israeli society. . . . President Obama must send a clear signal to the world by relieving Ambassador Gutman of his post, stopping his administration’s Israel bashing and recognizing that a two-state solution requires good-faith discussion and negotiation from the Palestinians as well as Israelis.”

The administration’s spinners who claim to be both pro-Obama and pro-Israel are certainly in a bind, aren’t they? In an administration that has made public Israel criticism a habit, in a single week its defense secretary hectored Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians (as if it had not) and repair its “isolation” in the region (as if Israel is responsible for the pro-Islamic tilt of Turkey and the conduct of nations that refuse to recognize its existence) and its ambassador to Belgium became the poster boy for anti-Semitic apologists. It is a shameful record but not as shameful as those who fancy themselves as friends of the Jewish state who stand by mutely or, worse, run interference for the administration.

By  |  09:00 AM ET, 12/06/2011

Categories:  American Jews, Israel, Obama White House

 
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