Politicians, Jewish leaders call on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to apologize for comments • ADL Director Abe Foxman: It is disappointing that a diplomat so knowledgeable about democratic Israel chose to use such an inaccurate and incendiary term.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday he had chosen the wrong word in describing Israel's potential future, after coming under withering criticism for saying Israel could become an "apartheid state" if it did not reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.
In a statement released by the State Department, Kerry lashed out against "partisan political" attacks against him, but acknowledged that his comments last week to a closed international forum could have been misinterpreted. He said he was and is a strong supporter of Israel, which he called a "vibrant democracy." He said his remarks were only an expression of his firm belief that a two-state resolution is the only viable way to end the long-running conflict.
"I will not allow my commitment to Israel to be questioned by anyone, particularly for partisan, political purposes, so I want to be crystal clear about what I believe and what I don't believe," Kerry said after U.S. lawmakers and pro-Israel groups criticized him, with some demanding his resignation or at least an apology.
"First, Israel is a vibrant democracy, and I do not believe, nor have I ever stated, publicly or privately, that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one," he said.
"Second, I have been around long enough to also know the power of words to create a misimpression, even when unintentional, and if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two-state solution."
On Sunday, The Daily Beast reported that Kerry had told a closed-door meeting with the Trilateral Commission in Washington on Friday that Israel risked becoming an "apartheid state," with two classes of citizens, if negotiations to forge a peace deal fail and a two-state solution is not reached.
Kerry defended his general point, noting that numerous Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, have made similar points in the past. But, he added that "apartheid" was "a word best left out of the debate here at home."
Kerry invested significant time and energy last year into bringing the two sides to the negotiating table with the goal of reaching a deal in nine months. That deadline expires on Tuesday with the parties having failed to reach an accord, a less ambitious framework deal or even an agreement to extend the negotiations.
House GOP leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said Kerry should apologize, saying, "Reports that Secretary Kerry has suggested Israel is becoming an apartheid state are extremely disappointing."
"The use of the word 'apartheid' has routinely been dismissed as both offensive and inaccurate, and Secretary Kerry's use of it makes peace even harder to achieve," Cantor said.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee also described Kerry's use of the term as offensive.
"Any suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate," AIPAC said in a statement.
The Republican Jewish Coalition released a statement strongly criticizing Kerry, and calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to publicly renounce Kerry's comments.
Another pro-Israel lobby said Kerry should resign, a call echoed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in a speech on the Senate floor.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) was also critical of Kerry's comment, tweeting: "Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous."
In Israel, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) also had harsh words for Kerry, writing on his Facebook page: "Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies. The terrible descriptions of how the Nazis and those who helped them, overrun with hate and racism, turned millions of defenseless Jews into ashes -- and the world stood silently. And now, the U.S. secretary of state describes Israel as an apartheid state. Us? The Jewish state that rose to defend itself from existential threats? Shame on you, Kerry! There are words you do not say."
"It is startling and deeply disappointing that a diplomat so knowledgeable and experienced about democratic Israel chose to use such an inaccurate and incendiary term," said Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman.
Netanyahu did not respond to Kerry's remarks.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki linked to articles on her Twitter account that showed Israeli leaders and former leaders referencing apartheid in relation to the conflict.
"Secretary Kerry, like Justice Minister [Tzipi] Livni and previous Israeli prime ministers Olmert and Barak, was reiterating why there's no such thing as a one-state solution if you believe, as he does, in the principle of a Jewish state," Psaki said.
Meanwhile, a senior official in Ramallah told Israel Hayom on Monday that Israel would begin implementing sanctions against the Palestinian Authority from the beginning of May. According to the official, news of the sanctions was delivered to Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and to a select group of Palestinian officials by senior officers in the Defense Ministry's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit.
According to the official, U.S. Congress will also cut funding of $400 million annually if the Palestinian Authority establishes a unity government with Hamas.
Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer told participants at an ADL conference that Israel will not hold talks with a unity government involving Hamas. "Hamas does not want peace," he said.
Following the collapse of negotiations and concerns over sanctions, reports have surfaced of Palestinian Liberation Organization members pressuring Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discontinue security coordination with Israel. The PLO Central Committee discussed the issue at the beginning of the week, but has yet to reach a decision.
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