Candidates call on Obama to fire U.S. envoy
December 5th, 2011
08:53 PM ET
11 years ago

Candidates call on Obama to fire U.S. envoy

(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.

Filed under: Mitt Romney • Newt Gingrich • Rick Perry • State Department
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Conrack

    Are these candidates crazy? How desperate can they get in trying to create daily issues/? Try coming up with a platform of realistic solutions to real problems instead of the game plan of demonizing the President. What's that? You have no ideas on how to move America forward? I thought so, so do us all a favor and get out of the way.

    December 5, 2011 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  2. shrinkDave

    That Europeans react badly to Israeli actions is an indication that the Israelis are doing something right.

    December 5, 2011 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  3. critter

    just a buch of hyprocrits....

    December 5, 2011 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  4. Ken

    Why is it that Republicans have a problem with truth? Gutless! If they can't speak the truth to friends(Isreal), then they're not really friends.

    December 5, 2011 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  5. Thomas

    That's whats wrong with America . You fire a person for telling the TRUTH !

    December 5, 2011 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  6. Rick McDaniel

    That's not fair.

    I read what he said, and it was not anti-semitic.

    December 5, 2011 11:48 pm at 11:48 pm |
  7. Edwin

    Just because anti-semitism stems from actions does not justify it. Gutman is almost certainly right in his assessment. If we cannot talk about the root causes of prejudice, how are we supposed to defeat them? Suppression only fuels more resentment - firing Gutman is an idiotic and harmful response.

    December 6, 2011 01:50 am at 1:50 am |
  8. Ranger Dan

    Fire him? Why? He speaks the truth!

    December 6, 2011 01:59 am at 1:59 am |
  9. Mike

    The GOP wants this man fired for speaking the truth? According to the article, it says Gutman's father was a Holocaust survivor, which would put the seriousness of any comments through a family lense. The facts are, Israel's actions DO influence the anger towards Jews around the world, and Gutman did nothing to say that it was justified–just that the connection exists.

    The GOP candidates seem to forget that they are running for the President of the USA, not Prime Minister of Israel. They fall over themselves to support Israel (and collect the money from its lobbyists) but fail to consider what is really going on in this world–which is why they should not be elected, we already had G. W. Bush for 8 years.

    December 6, 2011 05:33 am at 5:33 am |
  10. Mary Nelson

    He's completely right.

    December 6, 2011 05:53 am at 5:53 am |
  11. lgny

    If the goals of the Camp David accord had been accomplished such that Israel and Palestine were two sovereign nations living in peace side by side, does anyone doubt that Arab antisemitism in Europe and elsewhere would be significantly diminished?

    December 6, 2011 07:34 am at 7:34 am |