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?