April 28th, 2014
05:43 PM ET
9 years ago

Kerry under fire for reported ‘apartheid’ remarks about Israel

Updated 9:00am ET 4/29/2014

(CNN) – Secretary of State John Kerry drew strong rebukes for reportedly saying that Israel risks becoming "an apartheid state" if a Mideast peace deal isn’t reached soon.

The alleged comments were reported on Sunday by the Daily Beast, which said it obtained a recording of Kerry speaking to global leaders at a closed-door meeting where the stalled peace process was discussed.

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Kerry issued a statement after the uproar underscoring his long-held support for Israel and commitment to finding a two-state solution in the conflict.

“… I have been around long enough to also know the power of words to create a misimpression, even when unintentional, and if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution,” he said.

Earlier Monday, the State Department would not confirm or deny Kerry’s comments.

In his statement, Kerry notes that Israeli leaders in the past have used the term “apartheid” in talking about the dangers of a unity state between the Israelis and Palestinians. He adds, however, “it is a word best left out of the debate here at home.”

The story took another turn when the organizers of the event where Kerry spoke wrote a letter to Kerry apologizing for the apparent breach of protocol by Josh Rogin, a reporter with the Daily Beast.

“He was not invited,” wrote Joseph Nye, Chairman of the Trilateral Commission. “Although how Mr. Rogin slipped past both Commission staff and Diplomatic Security is unclear to me, we have confirmed that he indeed was present and apparently recorded the session.”

Nevertheless, the report angered American-Jewish officials and some in Congress.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee called it "deeply troubling."

"Any suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate," the group said in a statement. "The Jewish state is a shining light for freedom and opportunity in a region plagued by terror, hate and oppression."

The group underscored that it agreed with President Barack Obama, who said in 2008 the use of the term "apartheid" to describe the ongoing conflict between the Israeli and the Palestinian governments is "emotionally loaded” and “historically inaccurate."

Apartheid was the reviled system of racial segregation practiced by the white-minority government in South Africa for decades before the country transitioned to a multi-party democracy that was first led by Nelson Mandela.

Kerry’s reported reference to “an apartheid state” however, isn’t the first time a top official used the term when referring to the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

"As long as in this territory, west of the Jordan River, there is only one political entity called Israel. It is going to be either non-Jewish or non-Democratic. If this block of millions of Palestinians cannot vote that will be an apartheid state,” former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said in 2010 when he was defense minister.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, issued a statement calling reports that Kerry used such language "startling and deeply disappointing."

"We appreciate Mr. Kerry's deep concern for Israel and his desires to ensure that it have a future of peace and security. Even if he used the repugnant language of Israel's adversaries and accusers to express concern for Israel's future, it was undiplomatic, unwise and unfair,” Foxman said. “Such references are not seen as expressions of friendship and support.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia and Congress’ highest-ranking Jewish member, said Obama should call on Kerry to apologize to Israel.

"Reports that Secretary Kerry has suggested Israel is becoming an apartheid state are extremely disappointing. The use of the word apartheid has routinely been dismissed as both offensive and inaccurate, and Secretary Kerry’s use of it makes peace even harder to achieve," he said in a statement.

Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and potential presidential candidate, took things a step further by calling on Kerry to resign.

“There is no place for this word in the context of the state of Israel,” he said.

Israeli PM Netanyahu: No peace talks if Abbas is backed by Hamas

The U.S.-sponsored negotiations hit a road block last week after the Palestinians announced they would combine rival movements Fatah and Hamas to form a unity government.

Related: Russia, Syria, Middle East: Is the U.S. losing its ability to sway allies?

Israel's Security Cabinet subsequently announced the country won't hold talks with a Palestinian government backed by the militant Hamas movement.

CNN's Laura Koran contributed to this report.

Filed under: AIPAC • Eric Cantor • Israel • John Kerry • Palestine • Ted Cruz
soundoff (259 Responses)
  1. Namey

    What have the palestinians done right over the past 50 years? Please name any? Israel has created a thriving counntry from nothing, a hi tech industry amony many other industries in israel...

    April 28, 2014 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  2. Name

    Israel is already an apartheid state. Why is Israel above criticism.

    April 28, 2014 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  3. Tom

    Good on you, Kerry! Call a spade a spade.

    April 28, 2014 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  4. Emil

    Can anyone name one country with which the USA has better relations with since Obama has been President? Allies are insulted; foes get smiles. Unfortunately, foes see the smiles from Obama, Kerry, and Clinton as signs of fear and earn sneers in return.

    April 28, 2014 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  5. MarcNJ

    It's a shame that it's accurate.

    April 28, 2014 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  6. dmf

    The Israel 's right wing extremists and her prime minister have taken an oath and pledge not accept the two States resolution ever on occupied Palestinian Lands . Sec. Kerry 's initiatives for resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinian leaders have been stalling on one excuse after another and lastly Israeli extremists prime minister Netanyahu stance : " No peace talks if Abbas is backed by Hamas " . If millions of Palestinians are forced to live in Gaza strip and the West bank , under sub human conditions , similar to ghettos in South Africa under apartheid rulers ? If this is not occupation and violations of human and civil rights of Palestinian people , What would ? If Israel has failed to secure peace for her people after many wars in last 66 years , How would ?

    April 28, 2014 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  7. J. Gordon

    "The Jewish state is a shining light for freedom and opportunity in a region plagued by terror, hate and oppression." A small lie will be scrutinized. But a large one, cause for war.

    April 28, 2014 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  8. Someone Who Cares

    Open mouth, insert foot once again for Secretary of State Kerry. For America's leading statesman on the world stage of foreign policy to even utter the word 'apartheid' when talking about Israel is appalling. Clearly Mr. Kerry, like his predecessor Hillary Clinton, is a politically strategic appointee rather than a man qualified for the job. Shame on you John Kerry, and shame on the Obama Administration for making you our spokesman abroad.

    April 28, 2014 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  9. Olaf Big

    "The Jewish state is a shining light for freedom and opportunity in a region plagued by terror, hate and oppression." It could be, but it certainly is not. That's how misty-eyed Jewish Americans see Israel, but you would look long and hard in the Middle East for anybody who subscribes to this statement. Also, if I may ask, if Israel is called Jewish state, does not that relegate to the second class anybody who lives in Israel and is not Jewish. This is certainly not the American idea of democracy. So, perhaps Kerry is onto something?

    April 28, 2014 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  10. S. B. Stein

    There is no way that Israel would get close to the South African example of apartheid. There was never any nor will be there any law in Israel that comes close to that.

    April 28, 2014 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  11. John Conchusky

    Israel is an apartheid state why cant we openly say it? Our rights are now being taken away by foreign countries like Israel...no wonder no one likes them

    April 28, 2014 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  12. Rick

    Oy Vey! Why would he say such a thing!

    April 28, 2014 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  13. Jack

    How exactly are the Occupied Territories *not* Apartheid ?

    April 28, 2014 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  14. smdahl

    Sounds like an intentional leak to placate Abbas. No way the Palestinians will ever get a fair deal.

    April 28, 2014 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  15. Juanito

    The Palestinian Christian girl(who had to flee Bethlehem for her beliefs) inferred it most appropriately :

    There are so many Arab countries. Why must the Jews not be allowed to have one?

    April 28, 2014 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  16. Ken

    Unfortunately it's not what you say but what is received aka understood.

    April 28, 2014 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  17. Steve from abroad

    Sometimes the truth hurts. Good luck Mr. Kerry, in trying to find an objective solution. Careful that the AIPAC doesn't try to destroy you.

    April 28, 2014 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  18. Fulano

    Wow! The truth hurts.

    April 28, 2014 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  19. scootfl78

    Where's the controversy? Israel is putting Palestinians behind a wall and not letting them move about freely. How is that NOT apartheid?

    April 28, 2014 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  20. John

    In other words, the Secretary of State is under fire for stating facts.

    April 28, 2014 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  21. ToivoS

    Good for Kerry. More honesty from our top officials is needed.

    April 28, 2014 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  22. RobinMO

    What's all the fuss? A former Israeli PM said the same thing Kerry said.

    April 28, 2014 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  23. D

    At church, we were learning about the Holy Land and the disputed territory of Israel/ Palestine. Don't get me wrong: the Jewish people have been horribly and atrociously oppressed historically, but this does not excuse the wall constructed to keep out Palestinians. It is always justified by security, security, security, but there are deeper, darker reasons involved in this separation and segregation based on historical mistrust and prejudice of the Palestinians. Hate crimes are committed every day and checkpoints are everywhere, too. To think Israel is a free state is only a half truth: It's hard to become a citizen if one is not a Jew, if at all possible. If you read my comment, it is likely I shocked, surprised, or even offended you. This is because the Israel lobby in the US is so large that what it says becomes truth. I simply seek to educate a willing listener. And may God bless ALL of His children. May God bless Israel; may God bless Palestine; and may God bless America.

    April 28, 2014 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  24. Steve

    It is what it is.

    April 28, 2014 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  25. drcid777

    Indeed, Netanyahu has always viewed compromise akin to touching an electric fence. The last thing Netanyahu wants to hear about is Palestinians making concessions about anything, This hawk has never wanted to make any hard political choices, just build settlements forever and play the fear card to please his base. Kerry speaks the truth, Tel Aviv will eventually become the world's largest prison warden if a new leader for Israel can't be found.

    April 28, 2014 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
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