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. johannflobberschnoggit

    Oh great. Someone finally has the guts to call Israel out for what it's done for the past half century, and everyone jumps down his throat. Israel has way too much political clout in the United States; we can't call the kinds of things they do "injustice" in other countries and ignore it in Israel without becoming complete hypocrites.

    April 29, 2014 01:43 am at 1:43 am |
  2. Liutgard

    'Risks becoming'? Why the future tense? They already are!

    April 29, 2014 01:46 am at 1:46 am |
  3. RL

    Funnily enough, Israel was apartheid South Africa's main weapons supplier back during the global sanctions era. Whether this was simply part of an amoral "anything to make a buck" policy, or reflected a deeper Israeli comfort level with apartheid, is an interesting question.

    April 29, 2014 01:47 am at 1:47 am |
  4. Tom

    Saying a "Spade a Spade" is honorable.

    April 29, 2014 01:47 am at 1:47 am |
  5. Get Real!

    No news here – Israel IS becoming an apartheid state.

    April 29, 2014 01:59 am at 1:59 am |
  6. Charles Bishop

    But...its already an Apartheid state. Regardless of what pro-Israelis think whats going on over there is wrong. If you think the Palestinians over there have rights you are gravely mistaken, all of their ports are blockaded and their rights to land ownership are worthless since the Israelis take the land whenever they want in opposition to its own treaties. And yes I know, some of the Palestinian state is anti-Israel, but honestly wouldn't you be too at this point? Should they stop shooting rockets at Israel? Absolutely. But Israel should also stop rolling tanks into their land and running people off while denying basic things like aid supplies being delivered into Gaza.

    April 29, 2014 01:59 am at 1:59 am |
  7. Get Real!

    Nothing new here – Israel IS becoming an apartheid state.

    April 29, 2014 02:03 am at 2:03 am |
  8. Nothing new here...

    Israel IS becoming an apartheid state.

    April 29, 2014 02:06 am at 2:06 am |
  9. des currie

    Calling Israel a apartheid state is way off the mark. With all the killing in Israel it must be a genocidal state. That would be more apt. As resident of the old South Africa I am qualified to tell the difference.

    Des Currie.

    April 29, 2014 02:08 am at 2:08 am |
  10. yea or na

    The Israelis are the chosen people. They cannot be wrong

    April 29, 2014 02:16 am at 2:16 am |
  11. Daggash

    When only one group of people are allowed to vote and determine the destiny of another who aren't allowed to vote, isn't that an apartheid state? History will not take kindly to our continual support of Israel's actions against over 4.047 million people. This is 2014 for goodness sake.

    April 29, 2014 02:35 am at 2:35 am |
  12. Alfie

    The line:

    '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.”'

    is classic. In other words, on Israel, political correctness triumphs honesty, even if TWO Israeli prime ministers said what Kerry said. Nobody can take AIPAC and the ADL seriously any more, except those who get money from them.

    April 29, 2014 02:37 am at 2:37 am |
  13. Oye Oyesanya

    Why saying the bitter truth to Israel always brings scorn to American leaders; why did American leaders always cringe to Israeli leaders; why always subordinate your policies; policies that are vital to American interests and the world to that of Israel. Why the always somersault and changing of policies through the decades to appease the Jews to do what is right; yet they continue to poke insults to the only ally they believe in....you can all see now the futility of engaging peace with Israel. This is a classic apartheid.

    April 29, 2014 03:28 am at 3:28 am |
  14. Oye Oyesanya

    Always begging; always apoligizing; always issuing statements of appeasement; the world have been wondering what hold Israel have on the United States. And the world knows for decades that the United States cannot be a true partners in the Middle East. This is an unfortunate affair for the Palestinians.

    April 29, 2014 03:32 am at 3:32 am |
  15. rush

    alright everyone in state department take line to apologize....alright all members of congress and senate take line to defend Isral and rebuke John kerry. All right AIPAC hat else do you want us to do for your forgiveness?
    Ho powerful and controling AIPAC is over congress and the president. We should be run by AIPAC and to congress and the president because everyone agrees....

    April 29, 2014 03:32 am at 3:32 am |
  16. NoHypocrit

    It is about time for US politician to have the courage and hold an honest mirror in front of Israel's face. I don't understand how they are not scarred to certicise Russia but nobody had the guts to tell Israeli the truth. Kerry should stand by his words because he is not who's making Israel an apartheid. It is israeli's politician who are choosing that path.

    April 29, 2014 03:36 am at 3:36 am |
  17. glennrobert

    Kerry tells it like it is and is under attack. There is no reason for Israel to negotiate in good faith as long as they can go on taking the West Bank one house at a time.

    April 29, 2014 03:47 am at 3:47 am |
  18. ibuk

    Risk of becoming "an apartheid state", they already are.

    We can only hope that the US has finally cleared the smoke and mirrors and see Israel for what they truly are.

    April 29, 2014 04:02 am at 4:02 am |
  19. nyfoodhistorian

    Not to worry, Democrats. apparently, anyone in the Obama Administration can say ANYTHING and at worst, they're forced to apologize. If a republican had said this, he'd be on the street looking for another job.

    April 29, 2014 04:45 am at 4:45 am |
  20. Scott Thomas

    I'd be surprised if John Kerry is smart enough to spell apartheid, the man is dumb, and an embarrassment to the country.

    April 29, 2014 04:51 am at 4:51 am |
  21. Bernard

    FOrget them oversea irea we have our own america have our own oil

    April 29, 2014 04:53 am at 4:53 am |
  22. cheesecake

    The US congress might as well criminalize criticism of Israel.

    Naturally, US politicians with contempt-worthy names like "Ted Cruz" and "John McCain" were all lining up to kiss Israel's posterior and heap condemnation on others for calling Israel what it really is.

    Not that Kerry's any less contemptible. The former Vietnam war protester is now turning into a "propaganda bullhorn" (Kerry's own words) to justify WWIII with Russia.

    April 29, 2014 05:02 am at 5:02 am |
  23. treytools

    Thank you Mr. Kerry for calling a duck a duck. Funny how "The American Israel Public Affairs Committee" are so offended by a word but seem so indifferent by the "apartheid-like" situation on the ground, and the suffering the country they are supporting is causing to other human beings who happen to not be of their own religion. Let's call a duck a duck and stop this childish play on words: Israel is a democracy in words only when huge part of the population is denied basic rights based on religion and citizenship. Half of Israel (the occupied territories) is essentially a prison to everyone living there ... except the Jewish settlers, of course, who have special status and privileges... hence the appropriate apartheid label. The fact that American politicians are scared of calling Israel what it is effectively on the ground, is in fact scary. As long as this fear will persist, so will the de-facto apartheid system in Israel, unfortunately for the oppressed Palestinians. Denying reality does not change it, only preserves injustice for the many and privileges for the lucky few.

    April 29, 2014 05:15 am at 5:15 am |
  24. whatwhat

    Sure we can Mr WIlson.
    We've given up over 50% of our land since 1948, we've released prisoners who have actually killed babies, we send thousands of tonnes of aid to gaza monthly while they fore missiles at our civilians, throw molotov cocktails at our school buses and recently shot a pregnant woman (not that you'd have heard anything about that on CNN) and we turn the other cheek to calls of apartheid by the world when we have a arab supreme court justice and many arab members of parliament. Sounds pretty wrong to me. But you carry on with your over simplified soundbite slogans. Good for you.

    April 29, 2014 05:19 am at 5:19 am |
  25. Hulot

    Kerry is wrong. Israel is NOT on its way to becoming an Apartheid state. IT IS an Apartheid state already.

    April 29, 2014 05:29 am at 5:29 am |
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