U.S. Ambassador blames Israel for European Muslim antisemitism: Teachable moment for the Left?

Imagine, if you will, a European country, sometime in the distant future, where violent bias motivated crimes against Muslims is on the rise, perpetrated by extreme right activists who target their victims not merely due to racist attitudes towards Muslims as such, but due to the actions of Muslims and Muslim states Abroad.

Conjure, in this scene, a scenario where the US Ambassador to this European country, appointed by a conservative Republican administration, delivered a speech on Islamophobia but made a point to distinguish between expressions of Islamophobia which stemmed from classic anti-Muslim hatred, on one hand, and such racism which was merely motivated by an understandable reaction to the actions of terror supporting Muslim states outside the country.

What would the reaction be among the liberal intelligentsia, and opinion leaders, in this scenario if the Republican US Ambassador blamed not the white perpetrators of racist attacks on Muslims but, rather, the actions of Muslims and Muslim leaders abroad, whose actions, the Ambassador opined, stoked the flames of such bigotry and violence against Muslim citizens of this European country?

Well, the US Ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, just delivered a speech (at the “Conference on Fighting Anti-Semitism in Europe: What is Next?”, Nov. 30), which employed similar moral logic.

Gutman distinguished between two unique antisemitic phenomena, thusly”

“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.”

This hatred, he said, is “pernicious and it must be combated.”

Gutman then addressed “the harder and more complex part.”

“It is the problem within Europe of tension, hatred and sometimes even violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews.”

As to the root cause of such “tensions” and violence – similarly distributed, we are to believe, between Jewish attacks against Muslims and Muslim attacks against Jews – Gutman adds:

“[Such] tension and perhaps hatred largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem. [emphasis mine]

This second problem is in my opinion different in many respects than the classic bigotry – hatred against those who are different and against minorities generally — the type of anti-Semitism that I discussed above. It is more complex and requiring much more thought and analysis.”

Providing a personal anecdote to buttress his point, Gutman says:

“…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. It was in Molenbeek. It consisted of an audience dominated by girls with head scarves and boys named Mohammed, standing and cheering boisterously for a Jewish American, who belongs to two schuls and whose father was a Holocaust survivor.

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

The US Ambassador simply could not believe that Muslim teens, and imams hate Jews.

After all, he did receive a standing ovation.

Who needs dry empirical data regarding Muslim antisemitism when he had several minutes of laudatory evidence?

Gutman acknowledges:

“Within that same school and audience at Molenbeek, among those at the same Iftars, and throughout the Muslim communities that I visit, and indeed 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.” 

Blaming such antisemitic hatred and violence by individual Muslims in Europe directly on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Gutman descends further.

“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.”

the largest part of the solution for this second type of problem – too often lumped under a general banner of anti-Semitism – is in the hands of Israel, the Palestinians and Arab neighbors in the Middle East”

So, a sitting US Ambassador just blamed the behavior of Jews in Israel for racism against Jews in Europe, and morally distinguished between classic antisemitism, which should be condemned and fought, and anti-Zionist motivated antisemitism which should be seen as the result of Israel’s behavior.

Jews build a new home in Itamar. A Muslim attacks a Jewish teen in the streets of Brussels. The later is the result of the former.

Do I really even need to remind the Ambassador that holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of other Jews is codified as antisemitic?

Do I need to explain to him that Muslim antisemitismendemic today, existed well before the rise of the modern State of Israel? (Further, A Danish study published in 2009 exposed the magnitude of Muslim antisemitism in Europe today, with roughly 75 percent of Muslim immigrants from five different countries – compared to approximately twenty percent of ethnic Danes – possessing anti-Jewish attitudes.)

Do I further need to cite empirical data demonstrating that the degree of anti-Israel feeling differentially predicts the likelihood that one harbors a priori antisemitic views?

Do I need to remind the Ambassador of the odious intellectual pedigree of such excuses for antisemitic behavior?

Do I even need to ask if the Ambassador would equally justify Islamophobia in the U.S. as an understandable reaction to the actions of Islamic terrorists abroad?

I am an American Israeli, and now think I’ve likely been guilty of the hubris of believing that, unlike Europe and the UK, the US was truly exceptional when it came to Jews and antisemitism. I used to argue that a Guardian style ideology which contextualized, excused, or ignored Muslim antisemitism was unique to the European Continent, burdened as they were with a post-colonial political culture.

I’m no longer sure.

Will the American left now condemn, without qualification, such a dangerous apologia for antisemitism?

What does the left stand for if not a fierce and uncompromising belief  that hatred is never, under any circumstances, morally justifiable?

Michael Walzer, in his 2002 Dissent essay, in decrying the “the radical failure of the left’s response” to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, raised the question: Can there be a decent left?

The response to Howard Gutman’s apologia for Muslim antisemitism from liberal pundits, bloggers, and columnists will serve to partially answer that question.

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