BRUSSELS — The EU’s trade chief apologized yesterday for blaming Jews and the “Jewish lobby’’ in Washington for blocking Mideast peace as other EU officials quickly distanced themselves from his comments.
Karel De Gucht, 56, said he did not mean to stigmatize Jewish people and stressed in a statement that “anti-Semitism has no place in today’s world.’’ The remarks in a radio interview Thursday came as the United States formally convened the first direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians in two years.
The European Jewish Congress, an umbrella group, had demanded a retraction of De Gucht’s remarks in which he maintained that Israel frustrates US-led peace efforts and warned not to “underestimate the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill.’’
“That is the best organized lobby that exists there,’’ the former Belgian foreign minister told VRT network.
“Don’t underestimate the opinion . . . of the average Jew outside of Israel,’’ he said. “There is, indeed, a belief, 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.’’
European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly told reporters De Gucht made “personal comments [that] do not reflect the EU attitude about the Middle East peace process.’’