(CNN) - Three candidates vying for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination have called on President Barack Obama to ax the U.S. ambassador to Belgium after the diplomat appeared to link European anti-Semitism to the actions of the Israeli military.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich all say Ambassador Howard Gutman should be fired for remarks made last week at a conference in Brussels.
Gutman - who mentioned in his address that his father had survived the Holocaust - told the gathering he had witnessed hatred against Jews as a result of Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
"Throughout Europe, there is significant 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 and other Arab neighbors in the Middle East," Gutman said.
Gutman said Israeli actions had contributed to the resentment in Europe, particularly among European Muslims.
"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," Gutman said.
Gutman later said he condemned anti-Semitism, and regretted any confusion about his remarks.
Candidates competing for the 2012 GOP nomination were quick to latch onto Gutman's speech, saying they displayed insensitivity on the part of the Obama administration towards Israel.
Romney released a statement saying: "President Obama must fire his ambassador to Belgium 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."
Perry similarly linked Gutman's remarks to a larger problem in Obama's administration, saying, in part: "Ambassador Gutman's troubling statement is part of a pattern of hostility on the part of the Obama administration toward Israel."
Gingrich addressed the issue on Twitter Saturday, writing "Pres Obama should fire his ambassador to Brussels for being so wrong about anti-semitism."
Speaking to reporters in Iowa Monday, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum stopped short of calling for Gutman's firing.
"This frustrates a lot of people, but I've never to my knowledge ever called for the president to fire somebody," Santorum said. "I think that's the president's decision. I can agree or disagree with the actions of that particular person. I can say that they're doing a bad job. But as far as firing somebody - I'll comment on their actions, I'll comment on the job they're doing, but I'm not going to comment as to whether they should stay with the administration or not."
All four candidates are scheduled to address a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition Wednesday in Washington.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to a question about Gutman's comments, saying the Obama administration "condemns anti-Semitism in all its forms and believes that there is never any justification for prejudice against the Jewish people or against Israel."
At a State Department briefing Monday, spokesman Mark Toner said the administration has "full confidence" in Gutman.
–CNN's Chris Welch contributed to this report.