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demand Obama action over Belgium envoy’s anti-Semitism remarks
U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman said Muslim anti-Semitism stems from Israel-Palestine conflict; White House issues statement condemning all forms of anti-Semitism.By Danna HarmanTags: anti-SemitismJewish WorldBarack Obama
Some Jewish groups and others were demanding Sunday that United States President Barak Obama take action against his ambassador to Belgium, following comments the envoy made to the effect that Israel’s political positions serve as some sort of explanation for anti-Semitism amongst Muslims.
Ambassador Howard Gutman, who is Jewish, made the controversial remarks at a conference on anti-Semitism organized by the European Jewish Union in Brussels last week.
U.S. President Barack Obama.
Photo by: AP
“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,” Gutman reportedly told those gathered, going on to argue that “…an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty will significantly diminish Muslim anti-Semitism.”
In reaction to the comments, and the subsequent uproar they caused, the White House released a statement distancing itself from Gutman’s words: “We condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, and that there is never any justification for prejudice against the Jewish people or Israel,” read the statement, which was sent out over the weekend to Jewish leaders.
But Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich joined those arguing that a verbal rebuke was not enough. “Pres Obama should fire his ambassador to Brussels for being so wrong about anti-Semitism,” Gingrich tweeted on his account.
Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matthew Brooks echoed these sentiments, adding that: “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.”
Gutman, a lawyer by profession, was appointed ambassador to Belgium after raising major funds for Obama’s 2008 elections campaign.
U.S. President Barack Obama.
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Last updated at 09:53 ET
In a message dated 12/5/2011 4:37:41 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, email@example.com… writes:
Everyone is hoping for Palestinian unity. The years-long political split between Hamas and Fateh has been devastating at more than one level but mostly at the level of Palestinian cohesiveness and lack of one united voice. This coveted reconciliation is close at hand – or at least that is what the leaders of these two factions would have us believe after all the fanfare surrounding their meeting last month in Cairo. And the people, perhaps beyond their better judgment, have raised their hopes that the Palestinians are finally coming together.
While there is ample criticism of the performance of both sides, Hamas right now seems to be pushing its luck with its people. Having been isolated for so long in the Gaza Strip, it either has developed a false sense of popularity where it thinks whatever it does will be accepted by its people, or it is riding the wave of the moment, what with the Islamist movements sweeping newly democratic Arab nations.
What Hamas has forgotten, however, is that the Palestinians relish in their democratic and secular political reality. So, when Hamas authorities close down a social media conference in Gaza, on grounds that the organizers did not obtain the proper licenses, this does not sit well with many Palestinians, whether in the West Bank where Hamas does not have a strong foothold, or even in Gaza. If anything, Palestinians everywhere are sick of oppressive authorities that try to control their every move, stifling even the most innocuous acts of personal freedoms, such as women smoking water pipes in public for example.
Besides, according to Mohammed Abu Sharkh, one of the conference’s organizers, the group had sent Gaza authorities a request and had been given approval, only to be raided the day of the conference and told to shut it down.
One stipulation of the reconciliation agreement is to hold presidential and legislative elections by next May. And this is when Hamas’ popularity – real or imagined – will show itself. So far, both sides think the elections will be a shoe-in. Fateh veteran Azzam Al Ahmad is already boasting about how Fateh will win the upcoming legislative elections despite the Islamist victories across the Arab world. Contrarily, this may be exactly what Hamas is banking on – that the rise of Islamic movements in the newly-minted democratic countries of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya – is a kind of guarantee that the same will happen in Palestine.
If so, Hamas may be betting on the wrong horse. Palestinians, since the inception of the PLO in 1965, have espoused a secular philosophy for their liberation and have prided themselves on their respect for political plurality. It is only in recent Palestinian history that Islamic trends have been able to maintain a hold on the Palestinians in the manner that we have seen over the past few decades. It is hard to say whether the reasons behind this new trend are due to an actual shift in the Palestinians’ ideologies which moved them closer to political Islam or whether it is a reaction to the failure of other political movements.
The only thing that can decide this now are
the ballot boxes. But if Hamas continues to oppress the freedoms of Palestinians – freedoms which they have worked hard to achieve and will not easily relinquish to a dictator regime– they will find themselves in the minority yet again.
We all want national unity, no doubt. But we also want a Palestine where our individual and collective liberties are not trounced on by a totalitarian regime that wants complete control of its populace. Shutting down a media conference or a conference on women’s labor rights in Gaza will not win Hamas votes – at least not from a large sector of our society. Embracing national unity and the principles upon which the Palestinian revolution were founded – including political and religious freedoms –undoubtedly will.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org….
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File photo of the US ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman. (AFP)