Secretary of State John Kerry is facing new criticism in Israel for invoking threatened boycotts of Israel as a key reason the Israeli government should agree to a framework peace agreement with the Palestinians. One government minister called Kerry’s statement “offensive.”
At the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Kerry said, “[Y]ou see for Israel there’s an increasing de-legitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things. Are we all going to be better with all of that?”
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz on Sunday morning said Israel cannot be pressured to negotiate with "a gun against its head" and that Kerry’s remarks were “offensive and unacceptable.”
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of the right-wing Jewish Home party had a message for “all of the advice givers.”
“Never has a nation abandoned their land because of economic threats. We are no different,” Bennett wrote on Facebook in response to Kerry’s comments. “Only security will ensure economic stability. Not a terrorist state next to Ben Gurion Airport.”
“We expect our friends around the world to stand beside us, against anti-Semitic boycott efforts targeting Israel, and not for them to be their amplifier,” Bennett added.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weighed in on the boycott threats, primarily from Europe, during his weekly cabinet meeting, though he did not directly criticize Kerry.
According to a transcript of his remarks posted on the prime minister’s website, Netanyahu called attempts to boycott Israel “immoral and unjust.”
“They will not achieve their goal,” Netanyahu said. “First, they cause the Palestinians to adhere to their intransigent positions and thus push peace further away. Second, no pressure will cause me to concede the vital interests of the State of Israel, especially the security of Israel's citizens.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki released a statement on Sunday in response to the Israeli criticism, insisting that Kerry does not support an economic boycott of Israel.
“Secretary Kerry has a proud record of over three decades of steadfast support for Israel’s security and well-being, including staunch opposition to boycotts,” she said. “Just last year while briefing Foreign Ministers at an EU conference in Vilnius on peacemaking efforts, he urged them to refrain from these measures.”
“Secretary Kerry has always expected opposition and difficult moments in the process, but he also expects all parties to accurately portray his record and statements,” Psaki added.
At the conference, Kerry also said of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, “...today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.”
While members of Likud and other right-wing parties reacted bitterly to Kerry's remarks, the secretary of state received support from left-wing Israeli lawmakers. Member of Knesset Nachman Shai of the Labor party said, "Israel is facing an economic tsunami .... The boycotts against us have crossed the point of no return. This nightmare is coming true as we speak and this dense government refuses to see it."
Zehava Gal-On who heads the left-wing party Meretz warned that Israel "might soon find itself isolated and ostracized, like Cuba and South Africa."
The latest criticism of the secretary of state follows Israeli Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon earlier this month being quoted by an Israeli newspaper calling Kerry “obsessed” and “messianic” in his quest to secure a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Kerry appeared to address that as well on Saturday. “I don’t think we’re being quixotic and un – I’m a little surprised by some of the articles that tend to write about an obsession or a fanatical effort to try to achieve this, et cetera,” Kerry said according to a State Department transcript. “We’re just working hard. We’re working hard because the consequences of failure are unacceptable.”