This weekend, an Israeli newspaper reported that the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, delivered a controversial speech about the connection between anti-Semitism in Europe and the Israel-Palestine conflict. He attempted to draw a distinction between typical, historical anti-Semitic bigotry and the discrimination that results from Israel’s behavior.
In his lengthy speech (originally slated as an introduction), Gutman offered the following commentary on the first kind of anti-Semitism:
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.
He then described what he felt was more worrisome, the new anti-Semitism for which Israel is largely to blame:
Th[e] second problem is in my opinion different in many respects than the classic bigotry — hatred against those who are different and against minorities generally — the type of anti-Semitism that I discussed above. It is more complex and requiring much more thought and analysis.
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. 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.
Finally, he concluded that resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict would reduce anti-Semitism, especially of this second sort:
Were a lasting peace in the Middle East to be reached, were joint and cooperative Israeli-Arab attentions turned to focus instead on such serious, common threats such as Iran, this second type of ethnic tension and bigotry here in Europe – which is clearly growing today – would clearly abate.
There are two things to note here: the inaccuracy of his analysis, and the fact that an envoy of the United States, who speaks not for himself but for the American government, would make such claims in the first place.
The assertion that much of today’s “anti-Semitism” results from Israel’s conflict with Arab nations is seriously flawed. It is possible, of course, that Israel’s policies on settlement have in some ways exacerbated the conflict itself, but the behavior of the Palestinian Authority and other Arab states has continuously proven that they will not accept the existence of a Jewish state — a clearly anti-Semitic position — even when Israel has been exceedingly generous and conciliatory. The Israel-Palestine conflict, then, results from anti-Semitic bigotry far more than it fuels it.
Secondly, even if the ambassador were correct in his assertions, they seem wholly inappropriate for an American diplomat to a European nation to make. They do seem to fit with the dilatory and sometimes professorial tone of the Obama administration — musing about abstract injustices without regard for the policy consequences (as the president did in Cairo in 2009) — made worse in this case by being gravely offensive to one of America’s closest allies.
Perhaps Gutman’s comments were intended as an indirect (and yet odious) way to chide Israel’s conservative government, or perhaps the Obama administration doesn’t have a problem with American diplomats attacking our friends, so long as they have an interesting, politically correct reason for it. Either way, it is more evidence of the president’s cold attitude toward our ally Israel.