Wednesday, 8 September 2010

WSJ: anti-Semitic riff by EU Commissioner met with "collective yawn" in Europe

Will Brussels Boycott De Gucht?

The European trade commissioner explains why the 'average' Jew is so irrational.

A decade ago, the European Union enforced a cordon sanitaire around Austria's government after a close election led the Christian Democrats to enter a coalition with Jörg Haider's Freedom Party. Mr. Haider had gained notoriety for praising the "employment policies" of Nazi Germany, so the EU establishment put diplomatic relations with Austria into deep freeze over his party's inclusion in government.

How times change. Last week, the European Commission's own trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, gave vent to his own anti-Semitic riff on Belgian radio. This time, the official reaction seems to be a collective yawn.

The former Belgian foreign minister told VRT radio Thursday that the Mideast peace talks are doomed—thanks to the stubbornness and excessive power of Jews. "Do not underestimate the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill," Mr. De Gucht said. "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."

To make sure that listeners understood that he wasn't attacking only certain Jewish organizations, Mr. De Gucht offered his thoughts on the "average" Jew. "Don't underestimate the opinion . . . of the average Jew outside Israel," he said. "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. And it's not so much whether these are religious Jews or not. Lay 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."

Mr. De Gucht's apology Friday was that he was merely giving his personal view. "I regret that the comments that I made have been interpreted in a sense that I did not intend. 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."

The reaction in Brussels was muted and defensive. The Commission distanced itself from Mr. De Gucht's words, without criticizing them. Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign-affairs chief who from her first day in office has been a reliable member of Europe's anti-Israel chorus, said she was confident that the commissioner "did not intend any offense."

Compare this reaction to Mr. De Gucht's Jewish conspiracy theories with the public flogging of Thilo Sarrazin in Germany. The Bundesbank last week voted to remove him as a board member for his criticism of the failure of Muslim immigrants to integrate, along with a somewhat cryptic remark about Jewish genes. Whether Germans want Mr. Sarrazin at the Bundesbank is up to them; central bankers who make headlines of this sort are often more a distraction than an asset. But nothing Mr. Sarrazin has said approaches the prejudice of Mr. De Gucht's statements.

Given that as Trade Commissioner he represents Germany's interests at the WTO, will Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle say something? Both intervened against Mr. Sarrazin. And given that he is the most internationally visible commissioner, will his boss, Commission President José Manuel Barroso, act?

Brussels was much relieved when President Barack Obama agreed last month to an U.S.-EU summit in November after canceling a meeting in May. If Mr. De Gucht is allowed to stay in his job, perhaps the White House might consider canceling again.
See this: De Gucht criticises China and US on trade ...

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