By Justin Sink
Newt Gingrich is calling on President Obama to clarify whether he agrees with statements by Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, who suggested last week that some modern anti-Semitism has resulted from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than traditional bigotry.
Both Gingrich and Mitt Romney have called for Gutman's resignation, saying his comments feed into an anti-Israeli narrative that threatens the Jewish state.
Gingrich also criticized Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for arguing at a forum in Washington last week that Israel needs to get back "to the damn table" to negotiate a peace settlement with the Palestinians.
Republicans are using the incidents as the latest opportunity to exploit a shaky relationship between President Obama and Jewish voters. In his statement, Gingrich mocked Obama's argument at a fundraiser earlier this month that "this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration."
“The American people deserve to know today: Is it now permissible for American officials to flout official US policy publicly, or do Panetta and Gutman speak for the entire Administration?" Gingrich said.
A State Department spokesman said Monday that the administration had "full confidence" in Gutman, while White House press secretary Jay Carney said that the president "has consistently stood up against anti-Semitism and efforts to delegitimize Israel, and we will continue to do so."
Gutman made his comments while addressing a Brussels conference on anti-Semitism in Europe.
"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," Gutman said.
"Were a lasting peace in the Middle East to be reached, were joint and co-operative Israeli-Arab attentions turned to focus instead on such serious, common threats such as Iran, this second type of ethnic tension and bigotry here in Europe, which is clearly growing today, would clearly abate."
Gutman later issued a statement saying that his statements were taken out of context, and that he condemned anti-Semitism in all its forms. Gutman, who is Jewish, is the son of a Polish Holocaust survivor.
The Obama administration pushed back on questions about whether Obama had a problem with Jewish voters, a theme that has emerged since the president in May called for a return to Israel's 1967 borders as part of a two-state solution. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected that call.
"This campaign takes the Jewish vote very, very seriously," said Ira Forman, the Obama campaign's Jewish outreach director, to The Wall Street Journal Tuesday. "I'm confident this will be the most comprehensive effort in presidential campaign history."
Republican presidential candidates will meet Wednesday in Washington at the Republican Jewish Coalition 2012 Candidate Forum.