Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Ambassador of naivety

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The US ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, has shown breathtaking ignorance, insensitivity and naivety by blaming Israel for Arab and Muslim antisemitism in Europe.

Addressing the "Conference on Fighting Anti-Semitism in Europe: What is Next?" on November 30, Gutman - who is Jewish - admitted there is a problem within Europe of tension, hatred and sometimes even violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews."

However asserted that it is not intrinsically because of antisemitism but insisted this can simply be understood as "anger and resentment and, yes, perhaps sometimes hatred and indeed sometimes and all too growing intimidation and violence directed at Jews generally as a result of the continuing tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories".

He insisted the he knew the problem was not really antisemitism because as a Jewish ambassador,

...the longest and loudest ovation I have ever received in Belgium came from the high school with one of the largest percentages of students of Arab heritage.

...These kids were not anti-Semitic as I have ever thought of the term. And I get a similar reaction as I engage with imans, at Iftars, and with Muslims communities throughout Belgium.

Unfortunately we are not privy to Gutman's response or message when he meets with people from these communities.

Does Gutman encourage these community's leaders or school students to neither hate nor hold responsible Jews in Europe for the alleged suffering of their kinsmen thousands of miles away in the Middle East?

Does he explain that there is no phenomenon of European Jews verbally and physically attacking Arab and Muslims and in places like Malmo, Switzerland Jews are hiding their identity or leaving en masse?

Hardly surprising then that Gutman's proposed antidote for this hatred is a resumption of peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis and a cessation of settlement building.

...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 and provides a setback here in Europe for those fighting hatred and bigotry here in Europe.

Except, someone needs to remind the ambassador that the Palestinians are refusing to resume negotiations and settlements take up no more than 2 per cent of the West Bank. Or that no new settlements have actually been announced since 1998. (See Australia/Israel Review Editor Tzvi Fleischer's blog on settlements here).

He should also be reminded that building houses or shooting back is hardly the same thing as lobbing missiles of sending suicide bombers to attack civilian communities.

Did Gutman inform these students how the Palestinians twice in the last decade rejected an offer of a state that met the parameters most sober analysts acknowledge as constituting a viable two-state solution?

Or that the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank under Fatah control has refused to resume negotiations since 2009, despite myriad inducements, including a 10 months settlements freeze, and is now demanding the international community give them a state without needing to end the conflict?

And how Hamas, which controls Gaza and therefore is responsible for half of the Palestinian polity, vows never to recognise Israel, honour a peace agreement even if it reached, and sees the conflict as part of an Islamic imperative to wage war against the Jews.

Given these variables in play, Gutman's analysis and prescription is naïve, redundant and dangerous.

For more comment on this story, Omri Ceren writes on the history of Arab antisemitism that predates Israel's creation and notes that Gutman's speech comes after US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta's completely unsupportable claim that Israel is refusing to return to the negotiating table. Ron Radosh looks at responses to Gutman's claims from fellow conference goers.

To understand how prevalent and almost pathological are anti-Israel and antisemitic attitudes in the Middle East, a selection of stories from the last few days indicates the battle to reduce, let alone eliminate anti-Israel and antisemitic scapegoating is years away. This is particularly so following the success of Islamist parties in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco in recent elections. See Or Aviguy's blog yesterday.

In yet more examples, on December 2, an Israeli proposal to the UN General Assembly to make modern farming technology more accessible to developing African nations and thereby reduce regional hunger had to go to a vote because of opposition by Arab countries.

As Israel's Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Haim Waxman told the GA:

Although we had hoped for consensus on this apolitical resolution, there are some Member States who never miss an opportunity to politicize every issue - even those like agricultural technology - which falls well outside the realm of politics.

The sad truth is that the countries who have called for a vote on this resolution are among those that need it the most. The need for agricultural technology in the Middle East is undeniable. Agriculture is an issue that should bring all in our region together.

By calling for a vote, these member states have shown again that they are more concerned with scoring political points, than with their own citizens, and so many people in other regions who could benefit tremendously from agricultural technology.

As Ynetnews reported, Iraq's UN delegate objected to the proposal on behalf of the Arab states by "claiming that Israel is exploiting the developing world's needs to make political gains and to mask "illegal and destructive" policies. Nevertheless, the Arab states did not vote against the measure."

Finally, in a region where the odious antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is considered a Jewish how to manual for world domination, no one should be surprised that a Virgin megastore in Qatar and Bahrain selected an Arabic translation of Mein Kampf - Adolf Hitler's ode to himself and his warped views - as one of its recommended books. Blogger ElderofZiyon broke this story and has some more detail on the extent of the problem and the response from Virgin.

- Allon Lee

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