The US ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, made some truly appalling remarks the other day, but what followed is even more so. Gutman’s remarks were these:
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.
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.
Peace in the Middle East would indeed equate with a huge reduction of this form of labeled “anti-Semitism” here in Europe.
It seems, then, that at least some anti-Semitism results from tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel is condemned as a participant in the bigotry for the crime of insisting on defending itself. Anti-Semitism, more generally, is trivialized by the attitude that “there always are haters.” Gutman’s remarks, though, reverse the situation: the bigotry, which predates the existence of modern Israel and Palestine by some centuries, is the cause of the conflict, not the result. The remarks demand a clear, unequivocal apology.
The official responses to this were worse.
To digress, for a moment, an apology consists of three things, as any child knows: first, a prompt acknowledgment by the one owing the apology of the wrong done; second, an expression of regret for that wrong and for the harm caused by that wrong; and third, the first two must be sincere. Measures of sincerity include whether the apology occurs without prompting of any sort, the promptness of the apology, and the clarity of the expressions.
In response to the hue and cry over his remarks, Gutman had this to say:
I strongly condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms and deeply regret that my words were misinterpreted.
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.
He regrets his audience misunderstood him, but he’s not the least sorry for what he said. And we’re supposed to give extra credit because of his family history.
Then President Obama spoke up through his spokesman, Jay Carney:
Q I’m wondering if you could explain what the U.S. ambassador to Belgium meant in his comments about anti-Semitism, tying them to Israel’s policy.
MR. CARNEY: The fact is, as you know, we condemn—this administration and the United States condemns anti-Semitism in all its forms, and believe that there is never any justification for prejudice against the Jewish people or against Israel. Ambassador Gutman has expressed his regret, noting that he, quote, “strongly condemns anti-Semitism in all its forms.”
And I would just point out, Jake, that this administration has consistently stood up against anti-Semitism and efforts to de-legitimize Israel, and we will continue to do so. Our record on this speaks for itself. Whether it was opposing one-sided efforts to single out Israel at the Human Rights Council, speaking out against incitement in the Arab world, or opposing efforts to shortcut negotiations at the United Nations.
Specifically to your question, I think the ambassador himself has addressed this, so I would direct you to his statements, in terms of interpreting what he meant. But our position is quite clear. And our record is even clearer.
Not a word of condemnation of, or even remonstration against, Gutman’s remarks, nor an apology from Obama for his ambassador’s words. Just an injunction to go see what he said.
The State Department couldn’t even figure out what the problem was, as this confused exchange demonstrates:
Q: I’ll start with Ambassador Gutman’s speech from last week. Does the—did the administration sign off on this, or was it vetted by anyone in EUR or NEA? And does the administration agree with the sentiments that he expressed in his speech?
MR. TONER: I think you saw—actually, let me start again. I’m not aware that his remarks were cleared back here in Washington. He made very clear in a subsequent statement that they were his thoughts or his remarks. He did condemn—he—and was very vocal about condemning anti-Semitism in all its forms, and I believe he expressed regret that his words might have been taken out of context….
Q: I don’t know—it’s a pretty easy question. Yes or no?
MR. TONER: It is a—it is—it is—it was his remarks. It was his opinion—
Q: So he wasn’t speaking on—the ambassador to Belgium, he was not speaking—
MR. TONER: He was not speaking on behalf—I think he’s said as much. He said it was his remarks and he was speaking on his own—
Q: No, he didn’t. He did not say that. He—but he was not speaking on behalf of the U.S. government?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe so.
Q: So the—OK, the ambassador to Belgium shows up at a conference in Europe, in Belgium, and he is not speaking on behalf of the U.S. government. Is that correct?
MR. TONER: The ambassador was expressing his views on an issue.
Q: They’re not the view—so these—
MR. TONER: He subsequently—he subsequently issued a statement clarifying that he was—and expressing regret if his remarks were taken out of context. He then said that he does condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms and in fact pointed to his own family history as a—as a testament to that.
Q: So are you—well, I understand that. But you’re saying that he was speaking as a private citizen, not as the U.S. ambassador?
MR. TONER: Well, of course, when—any time an ambassador speaks, he is representing the United States….
Q: Can I just follow up briefly on that? Some Republicans have called for the administration to fire Ambassador Gutman. Is there—does the administration have a response to that, have a position on—
MR. TONER: We have full confidence in him.
“Could you repeat the question?”
No hint of an apology in any of the statements or exchanges. There were only “clarifications” and deflections from Gutman, avoidance and deflection from Obama, and an inability even to understand the problem from State. And it was all done in response to the uproar, and not at all out of any recognition of, and acceptance of responsibility for, wrong-doing.
Even worse, this failure is not unique to any particular party; it seems to be the modern vogue.