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. Name AJ

    If you read "real news" you would know what Kerry obviously doesn't. One in five Israelis are Palestinian and mostly Muslim, they are cabinet members, professors and business people.Does that sound like Apartied? Come on CNN and tell the whole story every once in awhile.

    April 29, 2014 07:57 am at 7:57 am |
  2. Gene Brady

    It IS an apartheid state!!!! HAS been for decades.... do you think we are blind or stupid? You must believe it's one or the other or both!

    April 29, 2014 07:58 am at 7:58 am |
  3. Sadie Boyd

    It is an apartheid system. The Israelis have forgotten the lessons from the Holocaust. They are now the oppressors.

    April 29, 2014 08:02 am at 8:02 am |
  4. Chuckt

    America is wasting their time talking about some idiot sports team owner, but no one is talking about the racial remarks our defense seretary just made about one of our friends and the only democracy in the Middle East. He is on the side of a group of terrorist (Hamas) and wants to play them as our friends. Has this president done anything right?

    April 29, 2014 08:09 am at 8:09 am |
  5. rla

    Kerry is like most other progressive democrats– An immature brat who can't even be professional.. When the secretary of state and the president make statements that degrade decision making on the international scale it is time for some resignations

    April 29, 2014 08:11 am at 8:11 am |
  6. rla

    TO Ole Mr Wilson– name one thing the palastinians have done to help their people in the last 60 years??? Kill Kill Hate hate Good Ole Islam at work

    April 29, 2014 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  7. Topgun 74

    Kerry's and Obama's remarks about apartheid shows that there exists a strain of virulent anti-Semitism that exists in members of the Democratic party. You can also see this in the posts of most so called progressives in supporting Palestinian terrorists and against the people of Israel. People of the Jewish faith would be best served by abandoning the Democratic party and supporting Republicans that have been unwavering in their support.

    April 29, 2014 08:14 am at 8:14 am |
  8. Tutuvabene

    Israel is already a dual society state with the Israeli Arabs being treated as second class citizens. This is nothing new.

    April 29, 2014 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  9. Edston

    "Reportedly" and "alleged". Right CNN. You are allegedly reporting the news. Must be the only news outlet who hasn't heard the conversation that was all over other news outlets.

    April 29, 2014 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  10. Jason

    It doesn't matter what plans the "palestineans" have or how much Obama/Kerry want to divide the land. God will not allow it. Zechariah 12:3, Joel 3:2, Zechariah 12:9 all state, to never burden yourself with Jerusalem. The US will come under judgement and you can blame your elected leaders for not following the Word of God.

    April 29, 2014 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  11. Gurgyl

    -absolutely Nothing Wrong with it. Yes, Israel is going to be Aparthied state just like S. Africa. Some Mondela will be reborn. Israel needs to stop drama with USA, mainly Republican garbage. True.

    April 29, 2014 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  12. Jme

    More proof that the DNC is the party of racism.

    April 29, 2014 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  13. Say Da Truth

    Oh No.. Someone said something true that upset the AIPAC... when will we be run by us instead of AIPAC... I really missed being referred to as THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, now it THE UNITED STATES OF ISRAEL..

    April 29, 2014 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  14. oldasdirt

    Very diplomatic, but of course we know who this administration likes and dislikes don't we ?

    April 29, 2014 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  15. agathokles

    Kerry was right - but he probably shouldn't have said it.

    April 29, 2014 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  16. Canadian Jack

    The only solution is a three state solution. Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. Hamas exists to seek the end of Israel. With a three state solution you isolate Hamas and they may be forced to moderate their position,

    April 29, 2014 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  17. TONE


    The signs of an administration imploding faster than a speeding bullet.

    Why because they stood up to Israel, and also i think it's the other way around i see Republicans dropping like flies.

    April 29, 2014 08:37 am at 8:37 am |
  18. Angus

    Well... He let the administrations veiled view of Israel slip out.

    April 29, 2014 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  19. Dave

    Under fire from who? If anything, there's already a system of apartheid in place

    April 29, 2014 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  20. The other guy

    The new rule of thumb. Watch what you say. Say the wrong thing about the wrong people and you're ruined, regardless of your meaning.

    And to Tutuvabene: even the ones serving in the Knesset?

    April 29, 2014 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  21. Topgun 74

    Kerry's and Obama's remarks about apartheid shows that there exists a strain of anti-Semitism that exists in members of the Democratic party. You can also see this in the posts of most so called progressives in supporting Palestinian terrorists and against the people of Israel. People of the Jewish faith would be best served by abandoning the Democratic party and supporting Republicans that have been unwavering in their support.

    April 29, 2014 08:43 am at 8:43 am |
  22. Melba Isom

    Jason, you are referring to the old Testament, we Christians live by the new testament and we are very aware of the history of the region – so who did you support before the end of WWII? there was no Israel until then. I would love to fully support Israel, when they behave themselves I will. Never forget, even God Almighty Himself often got angry with the Jewish people when they did not behave properly.

    April 29, 2014 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  23. Mark

    and here i was hoping he'd run for president again.......guess that's all over now.

    April 29, 2014 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  24. ken mertz

    I'll give credit to CNN for covering this story.......apparently it's not news on MSNBC and CSB news....People reading the later two, years from now will be saying....".WHAT? when that happen, your lying.."..... But it least we know George Clooney is engaged.

    April 29, 2014 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  25. J Anthony

    @Topgun: who said they supported terrorism? There are more Jewish Democrats than there are Jewish Republicans. Both parties have bent over backwards to appease Israel. We can support them, but we cannnot force peace between them and their Arab neighbors. Stop pulling the anti-semite card. You people are such mind-blowing hypocrites.

    April 29, 2014 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
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