Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon jumped to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s defense Saturday evening, defending him from Economy Minister Naftali Bennett’s criticism for saying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a festering source of recruitment for Islamic extremists.
In an interview on Channel 2’s Meet the Press, Liberman – known for forcefully taking to task governments he feels unfairly censure Israel – lashed out at Bennett, who said on Friday in response to Kerry’s comments that “even when a British Muslim beheads a British Christian, there will always be those who blame the Jews.”
Bennett was referring to Islamic State’s beheading of Western nationals.
Kerry, in comments Thursday in Washington marking the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha, said “fighting” for Israeli-Palestinian peace was “more necessary than ever.”
“As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions about the ISIL [Islamic State] coalition, the truth is there wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” Kerry said. “It was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt – and I see a lot of heads nodding – they had to respond to.”
The US secretary of state continued: “And people need to understand the connection of that. And it has something to do with humiliation and denial and absence of dignity, and Id celebrates the opposite of all of that.”
Liberman, whose Yisrael Beytenu party has lost considerable ground in recent weeks in the polls to Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi, said it was important to state some facts.
“When our ammunition supplies ran out during Operation Protective Edge, it was the US who sent us more,” he said. “It was the Americans who gave us money that enabled us to develop Iron Dome. It was the US who voted along with us in the UN Human Rights Council. And the one who prevents many problems for Israel in the UN Security Council is the US with its veto power.”
Liberman said while there can be disagreements between friends, “there’s no need to attack [Kerry] and make political hay over it.” He said Bennett’s comments may win him votes, but cause damage to Israel.
Bennett was not the only minister to criticize Kerry for his remarks. Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, widely believed to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s choice as a successor to Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, posted a status on his Facebook page saying while he respects Kerry and his efforts, “every time he breaks new records of showing a lack of understanding of our region and the essence of the conflict in the Middle East, I have trouble respecting what he says.” Ya’alon – who triggered a diplomatic flap with Washington in January when he was quoted at a private meeting saying Kerry was obsessed with the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, was motivated by a messianic complex, and should just “take his Nobel Prize and leave us alone” – said before leaving for a five-day visit to the US on Saturday night that the Israel-US relationship was based on shared values and interests, and that “we mustn’t allow any disagreements to cast a pall over those interests and values.”
The US, Ya’alon said, assists Israel in many different areas, including regarding security, and “we should remember that and thank their leaders for that.” He added that the security cooperation between the nations was unprecedented in both its scope and importance to Israel’s security.
The State Department also slammed Bennett for his comments, repeating a pattern whereby Kerry makes a comment perceived as critical of Israel, Israeli officials criticize him in response, and then get castigated in Washington for that criticism.
“Either this specific minister did not actually read what the secretary said, or someone is engaging in the politics of distortion here,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. “By any means, it is an inaccurate reading of what the secretary said. He did not make a linkage between Israel and the growth of ISIL, period.”
Bennett, however, did not back down. Following Liberman and Ya’alon’s remarks, his office issued a statement saying: “The US is indeed our great friend, and we are bolstering this friendship even more. Nonetheless, the minister stands by his remarks.
After it was explicitly said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fuels and strengthens Islamic State, there was an obligation to react quickly in order to make sure that this comparison is never repeated.”
The Prime Minister’s Office, meanwhile, refused to comment on the matter.
In other diplomatic matters, Liberman – while defending Kerry from Bennett – sharply criticized the Europeans for their criticism of Israel, saying that Europe acts toward Israel today as it did toward Czechoslovakia in 1938.
The foreign minister said Israel must stand its ground against European pressure, which is motivated not out of a genuine concern for the plight of the Palestinians, but rather domestic politics and the desire to court Muslim voters.
Referring to the head of Britain’s Labor Party, Liberman said: “Young Ed Miliband wants to enlist the Muslim community to vote for him.”
Liberman also lambasted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in a statement he issued Saturday night, for calling on Friday for Muslims to prevent Jews from going to and “desecrating” the Temple Mount.
These comments, Liberman said, reveal an attempt by Abbas to inflame tensions by exploiting the “most sensitive issue” possible.
Liberman called Abbas an anti-Semite who has joined the radical Islamists in “sanctifying religious war.”