Romney, Gingrich call for firing of U.S. ambassador after anti-Semitism remarks

December 4, 2011

Two of the GOP’s leading presidential hopefuls are calling for President Obama to dismiss his ambassador to Belgium after remarks on anti-Semitism made by the envoy last week at a European Jewish Union conference.

“President Obama must fire his ambassador to Belgium for rationalizing and downplaying anti-Semitism and linking it to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians,” former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said in a statement Sunday.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) also called for the resignation of the ambassador, Howard Gutman.

“Pres Obama should fire his ambassador to Brussels for being so wrong about anti-semitism,” Gingrich tweeted Saturday along with a link to an Israeli news report of Gutman’s remarks.

According to his prepared remarks, Gutman, who is Jewish, described two forms of anti-Semitism — one that he described as “classic bigotry” against Jews and a second type of “growing anti-Semitism” that is the result of the inability to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Throughout the Muslim communities that I visit, and indeed throughout Europe, there is significant anger and resentment and, yes, perhaps sometimes hatred and indeed sometimes an all-too-growing intimidation and violence directed at Jews generally as a result of the continuing tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories and other Arab neighbors in the Middle East,” Gutman said, according to his prepared remarks.

He added, “It is the area where every new settlement announced in Israel, every rocket shot over a border or suicide bomber on a bus, and every retaliatory military strike exacerbates the problem and provides a setback here in Europe for those fighting hatred and bigotry here in Europe.”

In a statement issued Saturday, the White House said that “we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms and believe there is never any justification for prejudice against the Jewish people or Israel,” according to multiple reports.

Gutman issued a statement Sunday echoing the White House’s position. “I strongly condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms,” he said in a statement posted on the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Belgium. “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.”

Some Jewish groups argued that the remarks by Gutman fit into a broader narrative about the Obama administration’s Israel policy on the heels of a speech last week in which Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta lamented Israel’s “isolation from its traditional security partners in the region.”

“Everyone is baffled by why President Obama would again and again pressure Israel while letting the Palestinians literally get away with murder, and nobody can come up with a good explanation for what he thinks he’s accomplishing by undermining the U.S./Israeli relationship,” the Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors said in a statement. “Let’s hope this isn’t why he’s doing it.”

The group called on Obama to renounce Gutman’s “wild theories,” which it termed “particularly troubling given the ongoing campaign by the White House to undermine Israel.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, called on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to rebuke Gutman and to “clarify if Gutman’s statement reflects or violates U.S. policy vis-a-vis anti-Semitism.”

At a Manhattan fundraiser last week, Obama touted his administration’s policy toward Israel and told supporters that “obviously, no ally is more important than the state of Israel.”

“This administration — I try not to pat myself too much on the back — but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration,” he added.

A September Gallup poll showed an uptick in disapproval of Obama among Jews compared with where he stood in the late spring, although the change was on par with the decline in approval of Obama among other groups over the same time period. Gallup also tracked no movement in Obama’s approval rating among Jews before and after the president’s May 19 speech on Israel.

Polling analyst Scott Clement contributed to this report.

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