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Obama Ambassador Under Fire For Comments on Anti-Semitism

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U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman. (U.S. Embassy in Belgium)

Republicans are urging President Obama to reconsider his ambassador to Belgium after the ambassador told a conference in Europe that Israel is causing a new and understandable strain of anti-Semitism among Muslims in Europe, altogether separate from traditional hatred of Jews.

Speaking to the European Jewish Union and an association of Jewish lawyers in Brussels, Ambassador Howard Gutman said a distinction should be made between traditional anti-Semitism, much of which is held by people who also hate most minorities, and some Muslim hatred for Jews, which is fueled by the ongoing conflict in the Mideast.

"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 told the group, according to a transcript of his remarks published in the European Jewish Press

Gutman, who is Jewish and described how his father survived the Nazi occupation of Poland, also shared a video of himself receiving a warm welcome at a Muslim school in Brussels, and said it showed proof that Muslims are not anti-Semitic in general.

Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in Israel reported that Gutman's distinction of Muslim hatred toward Jews and "classic bigotry" stunned the audience. 

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Obama "must fire" Gutman for "rationalizing and downplaying anti-Semitism and linking it to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians."

"The ambassador's comments demonstrate the Obama administration's failure to understand the worldwide campaign to delegitimize Israel and its appalling penchant for undermining our close ally,” said Romney.

Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matthew Brooks said Gutman's logic offers a distinction without a difference. 

"The remarks reportedly made by President Obama's Ambassador to Belgium are outrageous," Brooks said in a statement. "The linkage in the ambassador's remarks, blaming Israel for anti-Semitism, is a short step from the linkage that President Obama has expressed several times himself, that Israel is to blame for the unrest and instability in the Middle East. Both forms of linkage are fundamentally wrong.

"Unfortunately, this administration's policies of 'daylight' and pressure toward our ally Israel encourage the dangerously misguided tendency to make excuses for anti-Semitic hatred and bigotry," he said. 

Brooks added that the administration, which has distanced itself from Gutman's remarks, should reconsider whether Gutman is an appropriate representative of the U.S.

Gutman, who was a bundler for Obama in 2008 and raised $500,000, later reportedly said he regretted that his Nov. 30 remarks were misinterpreted.