Israel Political Brief December 6, 2011: Remarks on Israel by three U.S. officials Clinton, Panetta & Gutman spark furor among Jewish community

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF: ISRAEL NEWS

Remarks on Israel by three U.S. officials spark furor

Source: JTA, 12-6-11

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke at the 2011 Saban Forum in Washington on Dec. 2, 2011. (Brookings Institution)
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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke at the 2011 Saban Forum in Washington on Dec. 2, 2011. (Brookings Institution)

The Obama administration is reaping a whirlwind of criticism in the wake of pointed remarks about Israel by several U.S. officials over three days.

The U.S. ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, caused an uproar when he suggested on Dec. 1 that hostility among European Arabs and Muslims toward Jews was rooted in anger over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and should be distinguished from traditional forms of anti-Semitism. Jewish groups condemned his remarks, which drew calls for his dismissal from Republican presidential front-runners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

The following day, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stirred controversy when he told an audience at the Saban Forum, an annual Washington conclave for American and Israeli policymakers, that Israel needs to “get to the damn table” to negotiate with the Palestinians and “mend fences” with its neighbors. The Anti-Defamation League expressed “surprise and dismay” at a speech that it said “disproportionately put the onus on Israel to overcome its isolation.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made waves a day later at the Saban Forum when she reportedly expressed some concerns about the state of Israeli democracy.

The confluence of controversies has added up to a headache for the Obama administration’s Jewish supporters and given fodder to its critics.

“This is the worst weekend we’ve had in a while,” said a Jewish Democratic activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, referring to the outcry over the remarks.

Each set of remarks share a common theme, said the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman.

They’re “putting all of the onus on Israel, and that’s with Panetta, with Hillary and with the ambassador,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve had a problem with this administration.”…READ MORE

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Israel Political Brief December 4, 2011: White House Distances Itself from Belgium envoy Howard Gutman’s anti-Semitism remarks

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF: ISRAEL NEWS

White House raps Belgium envoy’s anti-Semitism remarks

Source: JTA, 12-4-11

The White House distanced itself from its ambassador to Belgium after the envoy said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the cause of Muslim anti-Semitism.

“We condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, and that there is never any justification for prejudice against the Jewish people or Israel,” the White House said in a statement sent to Jewish leaders on Saturday night.

Howard Gutman, who is Jewish, said last week at a conference in Brussels on anti-Semitism organized by the European Jewish Union that “A distinction should be made between traditional anti-Semitism, which should be condemned, and Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” He added that “an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty will significantly diminish Muslim anti-Semitism.”

Gutman, an attorney, raised major funds for Obama’s 2008 elections campaign, after which he was appointed ambassador by the president.

On Sunday, Gutman said he regretted that his statements to the conference were “misinterpreted,” according to the European Jewish Press, citing the U.S. Embassy in Belgium.

“My personal history and the history of my family testify to the importance I attach to this subject and my unwavering commitment to fight anti-Semitism,” Gutman, the son of a Polish Jewish Holocaust survivor, reportedly said.

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