John Kerry defended his Israel record, but also agreed that his use of the word “apartheid” to describe the dangers of a failed peace process was not appropriate in a U.S. context.
“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,” he said in a statement posted late Monday entitled “On Support for Israel.”
“While Justice Minister (Tzipi) Livni, former Prime Ministers (Ehud) Barak and (Ehud) Olmert have all invoked the specter of apartheid to underscore the dangers of a unitary state for the future, it is a word best left out of the debate here at home,” he said.
Kerry, who in recent months has made it clear he is irked by allegations that he is not pro-Israel, strongly defended his record.
“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,” he said.
Kerry made his original remarks during a meeting of the Trilateral Commission, which includes senior officials from the United States, Europe, Russia and Japan, the Daily Beast reported on Sunday evening.
“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative,” Kerry said, according to the Daily Beast, “because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”
The remarks drew sharp criticisms from Jewish groups, chief among them the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, but also from Jewish Democrats, including the National Jewish Democratic Council.
Top Republicans also called for an apology.
“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,” Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the U.S. House of Representatives majority leader and the most senior Jewish official in government, said in a statement.
“We express our deep disappointment that the Secretary of State has chosen to invoke the specter of ‘apartheid’ in discussing his concerns about the failing peace process,” the National Jewish Democratic Council said Monday in a statement.
The remarks drew sharp criticisms from Jewish groups, chief among them the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, but the NJDC statement was notable in that partisan groups rarely criticize party leaders.
“We reject entirely that racially-based governance inherent in that word in any way describes Israel, as well as the implication that the government of Israel uses such prejudice to formalize disadvantages for any of its citizens or neighbors,” the NJDC said. “It is surprising that Secretary Kerry would use this term and he should apologize and eschew the use of that formulation in the future.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is Jewish and who has strongly defended the Obama administration’s Israel record, also slammed the remarks on Twitter. “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous,” she said.