If only George Orwell was still with us. Even the author of 1984 would be hard pressed to have one of his characters speak to the people with the words used at today’s State Department briefing by Mark C. Toner, the Department’s Deputy Spokesperson.
Although the mainstream media has failed as yet to report on the shock felt throughout America’s Jewish communities by the words of the U.S.Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman last week, at a conference in Europe on anti-Semitism, the reporters present at the Department’s Daily Briefing did ask Toner about the meaning of Gutman’s words.
What Toner came up with reads like a Woody Allen routine in one of his early comedies. Here are some of the juiciest excerpts:
QUESTION: Let’s start with Ambassador Gutman’s speech from last week. Does the – did the Administration sign off on this, or was it vetted by anyone in EUR or NEA? And does the Administration agree with the sentiments that he expressed in his speech?
MR. TONER: I think you saw – actually, let me start again. I’m not aware that his remarks were cleared back here in Washington. He made very clear in a subsequent statement that they were his thoughts or his remarks. He did condemn and was very vocal about condemning anti-Semitism in all its forms, and I believe he expressed regret that his words might have been taken out of context.
Note the “I believe” and the inaccurate claim that Gutman “did condemn” anti-Semitism in all its forms. And note this as well:
Pretending not to understand the issue, Toner continues to argue that “the Administration and the State Department says that we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms.” Toner couldn’t be that dumb not to comprehend that the issue at hand was whether Ambassador Gutman was rationalizing Muslim anti-Semitism as something different and acceptable.
The unnamed reporter was not satisfied. Hence the following amazing exchange:
That’s great, Mark. I’m glad that you do, and I’m sure everyone is glad that you do, but do you agree with the content of Ambassador Gutman’s speech?
MR. TONER: We –
QUESTION: I don’t know; it’s a pretty easy question. Yes or no?
MR. TONER: It is – it was his remarks. It was his opinion. He was not speaking on behalf —
QUESTION: So he wasn’t speaking – the Ambassador to Belgium, he was not speaking —
MR. TONER: I think he said as much. He said it was his remarks and he was speaking on his own.
QUESTION: No, he didn’t. He did not say that. He – but he was not speaking on behalf of the U.S. Government?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe so.
So the Ambassador to Belgium speaks publicly using his title and yet is not speaking officially, or so we are led to believe. According to Toner, he was “just expressing his views on an issue.”
Then Toner raises Gutman’s own “family history” as a reason as to why his remarks have to be considered anything but anti-Semitic, since they were victims of the Holocaust. As we know from Norman Finkelstein that does not necessarily prove anything of the sort.
Next the other defense, echoing Obama’s remarks last week:
QUESTION: Mark, I understand that you condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms. I understand that, okay? I’m asking you if you agree with the content of his speech, which he gave as the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium.
MR. TONER: And I would just say that he was sharing his views on an issue. Our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad. The United States – or Israel has no greater friend or ally than the United States, and we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms.
Our intrepid reporter does not give up, and we get this:
QUESTION: Okay. That’s fine, but I don’t – I’m not hearing in there – unless you’re going to tell me right out he was speaking as a private citizen and not as the Ambassador. Is that – that’s what you’re saying?
MR. TONER: What’s that? I’m sorry. Give me your question again.
QUESTION: That his comments were delivered as a private citizen, not as the representative of the U.S. Government.
MR. TONER: Again, we’ve been very clear that we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms –
Reading the above, it’s hard not to think this was, as I wrote earlier, part of a Woody Allen script that was never filmed.
Finally, exasperated, Toner says “I think I’ll just stop there.” When the reporter brings up the issue of whether the administration thinks all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, Toner answers “I’d just say that this Administration has consistently stood up against anti-Semitism and efforts to delegitimize Israel, and will continue to do so.”
And here is the conclusion:
QUESTION: Okay. So in his speech, Ambassador Gutman draws a distinction between classic anti-Semitism and some kind of new form of hatred toward Jews which is based – what he said, based on the policies of the Government of Israel. Do you – it sounds as though you accept that there is a distinction between the two.
MR. TONER: What Ambassador Gutman was – I believe what he was trying to convey is that there are different forms of anti-Semitism. We condemn them in all their forms.
QUESTION: All right. I’ve got another on Israel, but it’s not on this subject.
QUESTION: If I could just follow up briefly on that, some Republicans have called for the Administration to fire Ambassador Gutman. Is there – does the Administration have a response to that, have a position on –
MR. TONER: We have full confidence in him.
The last is the important admission. There will not be any condemnation of Ambassador Gutman, neither from Secretary Clinton, nor President Obama. They have “full confidence” in a man who has sought to explain and justify Muslim anti-Semitism by claiming it is the result of the failure to reach peace with the Palestinians, which by implication, is Israel’s fault.
Of course not, because—Ambassador Gutman’s remarks obviously are the established policy of the Obama administration, and reflects its outreach to the Arabs and his disdain for Israel.
No wonder you won’t find this story in The New York Times.