The Israeli-US kerfuffle refuses to die over Secretary of State John Kerry’s reference to possible boycotts of Israel if the current negotiations with the Palestinians break down. US National Security Adviser Susan Rice called “personal attacks” in Israel on Kerry “unfounded and unacceptable.”
Rice, in an unusual series of tweets posted on her Twitter account on Tuesday, wrote that Kerry’s support for Israel’s security and prosperity was “rock solid.”
Kerry and US President Barack Obama remain “committed to negotiations that can secure Israeli and Palestinian futures,” she added.
The US government has been clear and consistent in its rejection of “efforts to boycott or delegitimize Israel,” she said.
Rice did not specify which “attacks” she was referring to, but Kerry has come under sharp criticism from ministers and politicians on the political Right since his speech in Munich on Saturday where, discussing possible scenarios if the talks with the PLO break down, he said there was talk of boycotts.
Rice’s entering the fray was an indication of how annoyed Washington is at Israel’s criticism of Kerry.
On Sunday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki issued a statement saying that while Kerry always expected opposition and difficult moments in the negotiations, “he also expects all parties to accurately portray his record and statements.”
President Shimon Peres at a ceremony on Tuesday – attended also by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett – to deliver the Outstanding Exporter Prize, came to the secretary of state’s defense.
Bennett, however, has been sharply critical of Kerry, issuing a statement earlier this week saying: “We expect our friends in the world to stand by our side against anti-Semitic boycott efforts against Israel, and not be their trumpet.”
“We always have been and always will be a nation that searches for peace,” Peres said. “After making peace with Egypt and Jordan we are in negotiations with the Palestinians. Secretary Kerry was committed to this alongside the US with the agreement of both parties, Israel and the Palestinians, and is supported by the world.
We thank him for his efforts and express our support to him and are all awaiting a positive outcome. He continuously stresses that the result must be acceptable to both sides; he came here to bridge [gaps] between us and not to struggle with us.”
A day earlier, at the Likud Beytenu faction meeting in the Knesset, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that Kerry had clarified to him that he was opposed to boycotts. He added that “the best way to clarify misunderstandings or express differences of opinion is by substantively discussing the issues and not by engaging in personal attacks.”
On Sunday, without mentioning Kerry, the prime minister said the efforts to boycott Israel were neither moral nor justified.
Government officials said that Kerry and Netanyahu remain in “constant contact.”
Efforts are under way, meanwhile, to arrange a meeting between Netanyahu and Obama in Washington early next month, when Netanyahu goes to address the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference. The conference will be held from March 2 to 4.
Later in the month, Obama will travel to Saudi Arabia for his first visit there in four years. He was in Israel last March.
Criticism of the secretary of state for his boycott remarks, meanwhile, did not only come from Israeli politicians but also from some US Jewish organizations, with Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman writing an open letter to Kerry saying that his words did not only describe the reality of what price Israel may pay if the talks with the PLO broke down, they created “a reality of its own.”
“Describing the potential for expanded boycotts of Israel makes it more, not less, likely that the talks will not succeed; makes it more, not less, likely that Israel will be blamed if the talks fail; and more, not less, likely that boycotts will ensue,” Foxman wrote. “Your comments, irrespective of your intentions, will inevitably be seen by Palestinians and anti-Israel activists as an incentive not to reach an agreement; as an indicator that if things fall apart, Israel will be blamed; and as legitimizing boycott activity.
What was “particularly troubling” about the comments was “the absence of similar tough talk about the consequences for Palestinians should the talks fail,” Foxman said.
J Street, meanwhile, defended the secretary of state, issuing a statement saying that “criticizing Kerry for speaking the truth is akin to shooting the messenger.”
The organization slammed Bennett, whom they characterized as a “spokesman for the settler movement” opposed to Kerry’s efforts, saying it “expect[s] a modicum of civility and restraint from everyone participating in Israel’s democratic debate.”