‘I don’t get no respect!” I wouldn’t blame John Kerry if he felt like the Rodney Dangerfield of the Middle East these days. Kerry has been called a “mouthpiece for anti-Semitic boycott threats,” “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic,” he’s been accused of saying things that are “unfair” and “intolerable,” and that’s just from members of Binyamin Netanyahu’s cabinet.
Meanwhile, in Hebron, a Palestinian demonstrator says, “We reject the Kerry plan because it is designed to liquidate the Palestinian cause. It is also aimed at Judaizing Jerusalem, increasing settlement in the Jordan Valley and denying the right of return for refugees.”
On the other hand, Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick has called Kerry “the Palestinians’ ace in the hole,” acting in “bad faith” toward Israel.
When it comes to reality in the Middle East, if everyone is angry at you, you must be on the right track.
The cabinet ministers are up in arms because Kerry had the chutzpah to state the obvious: that if the current round of peace negotiations fails, Israel is going to face boycotts. To be precise, what Kerry said was, “You see for Israel there is an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up.” He continued,” “People are very sensitive to it; there is talk of boycott and other kinds of things.”
Well, duh. This is not news. He wasn’t calling for a boycott. He wasn’t calling for delegitimization. He was simply saying that a delegitimization campaign is likely if talks fail. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid has said the same thing. Accusing Kerry of anti-Semitism for saying such things would be like saying a parent who tells his child, “Put your hand on that hot stove and it’s going to get burned,” is encouraging child abuse. It’s simply stating reality.
But no one in this part of the world likes reality.
Everyone prefers his favorite fantasy. There are Palestinians who enjoy the fantasy that “Jews are going to go back to where they came from,” or that a peace agreement will include an unlimited right of return for Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel. There are Jews who think the status quo is sustainable or that we can annex the West Bank and allow the Palestinians to be second-class citizens, or citizens of Jordan. Neither fantasy is going to happen.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is a brave and determined man. Many others have tried to be the midwife for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians: Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and George Mitchell among others. They all failed.
Undeterred by Mitchell’s failure – a failure all the more notable because of his huge success in Northern Ireland – John Kerry made a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians his top priority practically from day one after his swearing in as secretary of state. He knows full well that it is dangerous ground politically – support for Israel is very solid across the political spectrum in America.
Pressuring Israel – and getting anything done here requires pressure, on both Israel and the Palestinian Authority – is a move that could be unpopular at home.
Since he was sworn in a little over a year ago, Kerry has made 11 trips to the region. He is in continuous contact with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He has adjusted his “reality” a little, easing up on his targets and focusing on taking things a step at a time, with the push to a “framework agreement” now his “achievable goal.”
Kerry has a thick skin.
Responding to his vilification by Israelis, the Vietnam War veteran said, “I’ve been, quote, ‘attacked’ before by people using real bullets, not words. And I am not going to be intimidated.”
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice rose to Kerry’s defense on Twitter: “Personal attacks in Israel directed at Secretary Kerry totally unfounded and unacceptable.”
There probably aren’t that many Israelis among Ambassador Rice’s 354,000 Twitter followers. Which is a pity: It’s Israelis who need to hear the message.
John Kerry has put his reputation on the line in the sunset days of his political career. He has been tireless in pursuing a path to peace that would be the best possible thing that could be done to secure the future of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.
As we say in Hebrew, kol hakavod (“bravo”). He deserves our praise, not our insults. Three cheers for John Kerry!
Barry Leff is a rabbi and entrepreneur. A former chairman of Rabbis for Human Rights, he lives in Jerusalem.