Information from TheBlaze's Sara Carter and Sharona Schwartz was used in this report.
The U.S. State Department is denying that a 2009 letter bearing then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry's signature was meant for pro-Palestinian activists protesting Israel, saying it was an autopenned form letter from Kerry's staff in support of a "humanitarian mission" and was never actually seen by the senator, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time.
The Israeli newspaper Maariv reported (in Hebrew) Wednesday that the Kerry letter was used by members of the Gaza Freedom March, a planned march from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, to try to bolster their credentials to authorities in Egypt. Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada website and a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, and Jodie Evans, co-founder of the U.S. antiwar group Code Pink, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency the letter was presented at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to try to gain support for the group to march into Gaza.
Egyptian authorities ultimately denied the march, but Abunimah told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency the letter was "an example of the support people in our group received. Others had letters from others reps too. People had been encouraged to contact their elected reps prior to Gaza Freedom March."
But a State Department official told TheBlaze in a statement that the letter was provided only "so that Massachusetts residents could receive meetings while they were in Israel and the Palestinian territories. That is all. And if it was used for anything else, it was used under false pretenses."
"The letter from then-Senator Kerry regarding the humanitarian mission in Israel and the Palestinian territories was a form letter that was autopenned -- standard constituent mail that congressional members send out as a common practice," the official said. "Senator Kerry never saw it, nor did his senior staff see it. It was put together by his Boston office, and would also not have involved senior staff members on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee."
"Moreover, the text of the letter has nothing to do with the flotilla incident or even Gaza. It focuses purely on a humanitarian mission in Israel and the Palestinian territories in support of the peace process," the official said.
Indeed, the letter -- which was featured on blogs in early 2010 -- speaks only of a "humanitarian delegation" planning to "meet with non-governmental organizations, assess the health care system and observe human rights and trade conditions among Israelis and Palestinians."
An image of the 2009 letter from then-Sen. John Kerry in support of a "humanitarian delegation" to Israel and the Palestinian territories. (Image source: Maariv)
Maariv journalist Ben-Dror Yemini, who brought renewed focus to the letter this week, wrote that it "raises a serious question" about Kerry's political orientation with regard to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which he has played a significant role in restarting as secretary of state, and on the issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The State Department strongly denied any link between Kerry and the Gaza effort.
"The conclusion that Secretary Kerry was in any way affiliated with the Gaza activists or supportive of this effort is specious," the State Department official said.
Earlier this year, Israeli lawmakers slammed Kerry for comparing the deaths of pro-Palestinian Turkish activists aboard a ship that was part of the 2010 Gaza flotilla with the carnage at the Boston Marathon bombings.
"I particularly say to the families of people who were lost in the incident we understand these tragedies completely and we sympathize with them," Kerry said in April. "And nobody – I mean, I have just been through the week of Boston and I have deep feelings for what happens when you have violence and something happens and you lose people that are near and dear to you. It affects a community, it affects a country. We’re very sensitive to that."