Kerry On

JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, between 1990 and 2002 then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry supported the pro-Israel position on 55 different resolutions, bills, conference committees and other matters. He opposed the Israeli position once, and did not sign or co-sponsor items in accord with the Israeli position three times.

Pretty good, right? Well, you wouldn’t think so from the venomous rhetoric spewing forth from some Israeli leaders toward Kerry this past week.

At the Munich Security Conference, Secretary of State Kerry suggested there could be further boycott repercussions coming from failure in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, saying Israel faces an “increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things.”

So what happened? There were a variety of comments, including this one from Israeli Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Israel Home party: “We expect our friends around the world to stand by our side to face the anti-Semitic attempts to boycott Israel, not to be their mouthpiece.”

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To impugn Kerry with anti-Semitic leanings is quite frankly abhorrent, and Bennett doesn’t get a free pass on this simply because he’s an Israeli leader. Kerry was Israel’s loyal, even devout, friend in Congress for over two decades. His Senate record was rife with support for Israel when Bennett was still a teen.

Kerry’s devoted his life the last year to a process that holds a slim chance of success. He’s invested in it personally more than any leader from the United States or either side of the Israeli-Palestinian table. He may or may not succeed in his efforts to build consensus for a deal, but one thing he doesn’t deserve is such blatant disrespect.

What Kerry was saying in the above quote is simply his opinion of what will happen if the peace negotiations do not bear fruit. And you know what? He’s probably right — there will likely be more boycotts, as it is a natural and disgusting temptation in the world to blame one side for the failures that occur at the bargaining table. And we know which side that is.

Want an example? Look no further back than the week before the Super Bowl, when American actress Scarlett Johansson was condemned for serving as a spokesperson for SodaStream, the company with a West Bank plant at which Israelis and Palestinians are employed and work side by side. Boycott adherents claimed she was selling out the Palestinian side because according to their logic, no Israeli company, even one displaying economic cooperation and justice, should be allowed to operate beyond the Green Line.

Johannson held fast and loyal to SodaStream and even stepped down from her work for Oxfam, which has been instrumental in speaking on behalf of the plight and cause of Palestinians. As a result of her willingness to promote collaborative and fair practices by SodaStream, Johansson was ostracized by those who demonize Israel.

If this Palestinian-side contempt for longtime Oxfam friend Johansson doesn’t validate Kerry’s comments, we don’t know what will. The Secretary of State could have even cited Johansson’s plight as a perfect example of what he meant — Israel’s antagonists will use any opportunity to bring the nation down, and the failure of the peace talks will be laid at Israel’s feet by its sworn enemies.

For Bennett and others, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who also criticized the remarks), to lash out against Kerry, isn’t just wrong, it’s politically polarizing and counterproductive. Everyone who’s followed U.S.-Israel relations over the past two decades knows how strong an ally Kerry has been. That’s what Justice Minister and Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni meant with her words at the weekly Hatnua faction meeting, as reported in the Jerusalem Post: “‘Warning a friend of an existing threat doesn’t mean he’s threatening us,’ she said, adding that if Kerry’s critics knew how much he’s helped prevent actions against Israel, they’d be ashamed.”

To have Kerry at the table as one who’s not only shown consistent loyal interest in the longterm safety and prosperity of Israel, but also strongly versed in the nuances of diplomacy, is a double positive of the utmost value. It’s not his job as facilitator to agree with Israel on every point of negotiation, but to bring home a deal that can best ensure a lasting and secure peace. The words of Israel’s key leaders on this particular occasion were not at all helpful in supporting that objective.

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