U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman (Image source: U.S. State Department)
The U.S. ambassador reportedly named in the State Department Inspector General’s memo regarding allegations of soliciting prostitutes made news two years ago after he said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was responsible for sparking a new kind of anti-Semitism in Europe, a statement that prompted prominent Republicans to call then for his removal.
CBS News reported on Monday that it obtained documents showing that the highest ranks of the State Department “may have covered up allegations of illegal and inappropriate behavior within their ranks.”
It further reported that State Department agents told their department’s Inspector General that “they were told to stop investigating the case of a U.S. Ambassador who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.”
Though CBS News did not report which ambassador was named, the New York Post later reported it as being U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman, and Gutman issued a statement calling the allegations "baseless."
According to the internal State Department Inspector General's memo cited by CBS, the ambassador "routinely ditched ... his protective security detail," and it was suspected by inspectors that this was in order to "solicit sexual favors from prostitutes."
After a summons to Washington to meet with a senior State Department official, the ambassador was allowed to return to serve out his term, according to CBS.
Gutman said in a statement quoted by Foreign Policy: "I am angered and saddened by the baseless allegations that have appeared in the press and to watch the four years I have proudly served in Belgium smeared is devastating," he said.
"I live on a beautiful park in Brussels that you walk through to get to many locations and at no point have I ever engaged in any improper activity,” the New York Post quoted him as saying in the statement.
Gutman made news in 2011 when he appeared to blame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for promoting anti-Semitism among European Muslims. Gutman made the remarks at the “Conference on Fighting Anti-Semitism in Europe: What is Next?”
In his speech, Gutman discussed two kinds of anti-Semitism, the “classic bigotry” and a different kind of anti-Semitism. According to a transcript by the European Jewish Press, Gutman said, “What I do see as growing, as gaining much more attention in the newspapers and among politicians and communities, is a different phenomena.”
“It is the problem within Europe of tension, hatred and sometimes even violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews. It is a tension and perhaps hatred largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem,” Gutman said then.
Gutman is Jewish and the son of a Holocaust survivor. In his 2011 speech, he said the longest and loudest ovation he ever received in Belgium was when he visited the Belgian school with the highest enrollment of Arab students, “an audience dominated by girls with head scarves and boys named Mohammed, standing and cheering boisterously for a Jewish American.” He used this example to drive home his point that these students didn’t embrace classic bigotry.
The Israeli site Ynet reported then that members of the audience were “visibly stunned” by Gutman’s presentation.
Gutman later issued a statement regarding his speech. “I strongly condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms and deeply regret that my words were misinterpreted," Gutman said.
"My personal history and the history of my family testify to the importance I attach to this subject and my unwavering commitment to fight anti-Semitism," Gutman said.
Then Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said then, “President Obama should fire his ambassador to Brussels for being so wrong about anti-Semitism.”
Mitt Romney also called for his dismissal, accusing the ambassador of "rationalizing and downplaying anti-Semitism and linking it to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians."
"The ambassador's comments demonstrate the Obama administration's failure to understand the worldwide campaign to delegitimize Israel and its appalling penchant for undermining our close ally,” said Romney, according to Fox News.
Gutman raised substantial funds for President Barack Obama’s 2008 election run, garnering $500,000 for the campaign and $275,000 for his inauguration committee, according to Foreign Policy which quoted Open Secrets.