Karel De Gucht, the European commissioner for trade, and a former Belgian foreign minister, sparked outrage after voicing his scepticism about the prospects for the negotiations which opened in the US this week. He told a Belgian radio station that most Jews always believed they were right, and questioned the point of talking to them about the Middle East.First off, what an odd sort of apology to say that one's bigotry is 'personal.'
De Gucht, who negotiates for Europe on trade with the rest of the world, and is one of the most powerful officials in Brussels, was forced today to issue a statement declaring that the views he expressed were personal.
“Don’t underestimate the opinion … of the average Jew outside Israel,” he told the radio station. “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.”
Explaining why he thought the peace talks were probably doomed, he added: “Do not underestimate the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill. That is the best organised lobby, you shouldn’t underestimate the grip it has on American politics – no matter whether it’s Republicans or Democrats.”
“I gave an interview … I gave my personal point of view,” he said. “I regret that the comments that I made have been interpreted in a sense that I did not intend.In fact, the comments were surely interpreted in exactly the sense in which they were said. His comments did not regrettably cause offense so much as they are plainly offensive in their nature. Look, there's a long history of claiming that Jews aren't rational, but even setting aside that stereotype, his claim about Jews being irrational only points to his inability to listen to what Jews have to say. More importantly, the stuff about that powerful "Jewish lobby" is plainly antisemitic. Whenever you find yourself about to make such an outrageous generalization, you should first assume that the problem is your own insensitivity. Like so many people, he doesn't seem to get the most basic fact of antisemitism: claiming Jews have power way beyond what we actually have is one of the most dangerously antisemitic things that can be said. The immediate implication is that something has to be done to take power away from Jews in order to right the world. In other words, Jews must be oppressed. Because the problems of the world are not actually the fault of Jews, however, that's a useless strategy which inevitably escalates to more severe oppressions in order to sudbue the "powerful" Jews. If he wants to make clear that "antisemitism has no place" he should certainly disavow the whole making-incredibly-antisemitic-comments thing, rather than merely expressing his sincere regret that other people are so irrational and don't get what he's saying when he's making incredibly antisemitic comments. No apology can mean anything here unless De Gucht can take responsibility for the plainly bigoted nature of his remarks. Regardless of his intention, he has precisely "stigmatized" and threatened Jews.
“I did not mean in any possible way to cause offence or stigmatise the Jewish community. I want to make clear that antisemitism has no place in today’s world.”
Also, I think it's time the words organized and grip should be seen as inherently problematic in these debates, just like the word cabal. I don't know why I keep seeing grip but it turns up strangely often. Such as here.