06 September 2010
The senior EU Commissioner Karel De Gucht – a former Belgian foreign minister – has sparked outrage across Europe by alleging in a radio interview that the “Jewish lobby” held power over US foreign policy and that it was difficult having “rational” discussions with Jews on the subject of the Middle East. The European Jewish Congress demanded an apology and full retraction from De Gucht, who is in charge of international trade, one of the most powerful portfolios in the European Commission, the EU’s executive. “Once again we hear outrageous anti-Semitism from a senior European official,” EJC President Moshe Kantor said in a statement. “The libel of Jewish power is apparently acceptable at the highest levels of the European Union. This should worry everyone who seeks a more tolerant Europe,” Kantor said.
Diane Keyser, secretary-general of the Antwerp-based Forum of Jewish Organizations, told the German newspaper ‘Financial Times Deutschland’: "Karel De Gucht stigmatizes us. He doesn’t attack Israel, but the Jews world-wide… We don’t want to use the term racism, but this is definitely a scandalous statement!”
The European Commission also distanced itself from De Gucht's remarks, saying he had expressed his “personal views” that did not reflect the position of the European Union regarding the Middle East peace process.
De Gucht was forced to issue a statement, expressing regret about the way his remarks were interpreted “in a sense that I did not intend.” He added: “I did not mean in any possible way to cause offense or stigmatize the Jewish Community. I want to make clear that anti-Semitism has no place in today’s world and is fundamentally against our European values.”
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton backed De Gucht's explanation, saying she was "confident that he did not intend any offence," her office said in a statement. Ashton reaffirmed "the EU's engagement and full support to the success of the negotiations and stresses the role of the Quartet in driving this process to a successful conclusion."
In the interview with Flemish radio, De Gucht was asked about the resumption of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in Washington last week. “That is the best-organized lobby; you shouldn’t underestimate the grip it has on American politics – no matter whether it’s Republicans or Democrats,” he replied. “And don’t underestimate either, the opinion – apart from the lobbying being done – of the average Jew outside Israel. There is indeed a belief – it’s difficult to describe it otherwise – among most Jews that they are right and a belief is something that’s difficult to counter with rational arguments,” De Gucht added.
He went on to say: “And it’s not so much whether these are religious Jews or not. Jews also share the same belief that they are right. So it is not easy to have, even with moderate Jews, a rational discussion about what is actually happening in the Middle East.”
We welcome any comments you may have on this article.
Comments are moderated and we reserve the right to edit or remove any which are derogatory or offensive.
The WJC is not responsible for the content of any comments.
Subscribe to our newsletter.