Secretary of State John Kerry apologized Monday night for saying Israel could become an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, saying if he “could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word,” even as he defiantly lashed out at critics who pounced on the incendiary remark.
After speaking at a closed door meeting of the Trilateral Commission last Friday – reported by The Daily Beast Sunday night.
Kerry, in his apology, stood by his “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.”
And he lashed lashed out against “partisan political” attacks against him, even as he conceded “apartheid” is “a word best left out of the debate here at home.”
“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 in a statement released by the State Department.
“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.”
“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.”
In his closed-door remarks, Kerry warned 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. And his speculation triggered an almost immediate outcry from House GOP leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who said Kerry should apologize, while the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Anti Defamation League described the use of the word “apartheid” as both offensive and troubling.
Abe Foxman, the president of the Anti Defamation League, called the remarks “startling and deeply disappointing that a diplomat so knowledgeable and experienced about democratic Israel chose to use such an inaccurate and incendiary term.”
House GOP leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Kerry should apologize, while the American Israel Public Affairs Committee described his use of the term as offensive.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz even called for the Secretary of State’s resignation over the remarks, while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, described the comments as “outrageous and disappointing.”
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California also was critical, tweeting: “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous.”
Still, Kerry refused to back down from his general point, noting other Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, have spoken similarly.
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; the deadline expires Tuesday, with the parties having failed to reach an accord, a less ambitious framework deal or even an agreement to extend the negotiations.