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EU trade chief seeks to defuse row over "anti-Semitic" remarks

EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht has said he didn't mean to cause offence to the Jewish community after he was criticized for comments blaming the "Jewish lobby" in the US for blocking Mideast peace.

EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht

Israel welcomed de Gucht's apology for his remarks

The European Union's trade commissioner Karel de Gucht has sought to fend off allegations of anti-Semitism after criticism by Jewish groups of remarks he made in a radio interview.

Karel de Gucht said in an interview with Belgian broadcaster VRT Thursday that it was "not easy to have, even with moderate Jews, a rational discussion about what is actually happening in the Middle East."

De Gucht said that a "Jewish lobby" that wielded much power over politics in the US and should not be underestimated could block progress toward peace in the Middle East. He added that "most Jews" believed themselves to be right in matters of Israeli-Palestinian policy.

Jewish groups slam comments

The statements sparked criticism from the European Jewish Congress (EJC) and Germany's Central Council of Jews.

"Once again we hear outrageous anti-Semitism from a senior European official," said EJC President Moshe Kantor, who warned of a new wave of anti-Semitism in Europe, adding, "The libel of Jewish power is apparently acceptable at the highest levels of the EU."

The European Commission on Friday distanced itself from De Gucht's remarks.

"For the Commission, these are personal comments" that do not reflect the European Union's views, a European Commission spokesman told the daily Commission briefing.

Israel welcomes apology

De Gucht said Friday that he "did not mean in any possible way to cause offence or stigmatize the Jewish community” and that anti-Semitism had "no place in today's world and is fundamentally against our European values."

Israel, which had opposed the initial remarks, welcomed the statement.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy said: "Israel welcomes the fact that EU Commission distanced itself from the comments and looks positively on the fact the Mr. De Gucht apologized."

It's not the first Karel de Gucht has stirred anger with his comments. He faced criticism two years for remarks he made about corruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo which triggered a diplomatic spat with Belgium.

Author: David Levitz (AFP/dpa/KNA/Reuters)

Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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