DEFENDing An AMBASSADOR
The Obama administration is defending the U.S. ambassador to Belgium and ignoring calls from many Jewish-American leaders to denounce the envoy for remarks they see as blaming Israel for anti-Semitism among European Muslims.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner this week said the administration has "full confidence" in Ambassador Howard Gutman, a political appointee and top campaign fundraiser for President Obama in 2008.
White House spokesman Jay Carney denounced anti-Semitism and referred to a statement the ambassador issued on Sunday, expressing "regrets" that his remarks were "misinterpreted."
In a speech last week to the European Jewish Union in Brussels, Mr. Gutman, who is Jewish, linked anti-Semitism among Muslims in Europe to failure in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. He also drew a distinction between "classic bigotry" against Jews and anti-Zionism against Israel.
Mr. Gutman said he found "significant anger and resentment" throughout Muslim communities in Europe against Jews "generally as a result of the continuing tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories ... ."
American Jewish leaders demanded that the administration go further than issue a general condemnation of discrimination against Jews.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center called on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to "immediately rebuke Gutman for excusing Muslim hatred of Jews."
The center's director, Rabbi Marvin Hier, and Associate Director Abraham Cooper denounced Mr. Gutman's "twisted logic" as "beyond shocking."
"America has always taken the lead in condemning hate in all its manifestations, not providing a moral free pass to extremists whose hatred of Jews besmirches the Muslim religion and has spawned violent hatred against Jews across the Middle East and beyond," they said.
Doris Wise Montrose, president of the Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, accused the Obama administration of finding "something new to blame on Israel."
"Ambassador Gutman's wild theories are particularly troubling, given the ongoing campaign by the White House to undermine Israel," she said.
"Everyone is baffled by why President Obama would again and again pressure Israel, while letting the Palestinians literally get away with murder ... ."
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said Mr. Gutman's comments reflect a broader lack of support for Israel in the Obama administration.
"This continues to show the hostility of the administration to Jews in Israel and its misplaced sympathy for Muslims and radical Muslims," he said.
In Washington, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Mr. Gutman's comments come "too close to supplying justification for senseless aggression" against Jews.
"The ambassador's comments fail to recognize that Israel has made sacrifices for peace time and again, while the Palestinian leaders refuse even to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen , Florida Republican.
Over the weekend, Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called on Mr. Obama to dismiss the ambassador.
FORD RETURNS TO SYRIA
The U.S. ambassador to Syria - recalled to Washington in October because of death threats - is returning to Damascus, where the conflict that caused his departure has deteriorated into what the United Nations is calling a civil war.
Ambassador Robert Ford was due to board a plane for Syria on Tuesday evening, the State Department said.
Mr. Ford frequently denounced Syrian President Bashir Assad's government for killing peaceful protesters and traveled outside the capital to meet with dissidents.
The U.N. estimates that more than 4,000 Syrians have died since the uprising erupted in March.
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