(JTA) — The European Union’s trade chief apologized for saying that rational discussion about Israel was impossible with Jews and that the Jewish lobby is the most influential in Washington.
Karel De Gucht, a former Belgian foreign minister who is now the E.U.’s Trade Commissioner, had been asked in a radio interview on Thursday for his opinion on renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks launched in Washington.
"That is the best organized lobby that exists there," De Gucht was quoted by The Associated Press as telling VRT, a Dutch-language radio network. "There is, indeed, a religion, I can hardly describe it differently, among most Jews that they are right. So it is not easy to have a rational discussion with a moderate Jew about what is happening in the Middle East. It is a very emotional issue."
The European Jewish Congress immediately blasted the remarks and said they were part of an increasing pattern of anti-Semitism.
“What sort of environment allows such remarks to be made openly by a senior politician?” said Moshe Kantor, the EJC president. “This is part of a dangerous trend of incitement against Jews and Israel in Europe that needs to be stamped out immediately.”
By Friday, De Gucht was apologizing. In a statement he said it was not his intention "to cause offense or stigmatize the Jewish Community. I want to make clear that anti-Semitism has no place in today’s world and is fundamentally against our European values."
The European Commission, a body of 27 commissioners from each of the E.U.’s member nations, each handling a different policy area, distanced itself from De Gucht’s comments.