Gaffe

04.28.14

Kerry Apologizes for Apartheid Comments

In a statement Monday evening, the secretary of state said if he ‘could rewind the tape,’ he wouldn’t have used the word ‘apartheid’ in his warning about Israel.

John Kerry apologized Monday for warning last week that the lack of a two-state solution in the Middle East could lead to Israel becoming an “apartheid state.” Kerry’s remarks, made in a closed door meeting of the Trilateral Commission and first reported by The Daily Beast Sunday night, provoked strong reactions from across the political spectrum. 

In a statement issued Monday evening, Kerry defended his record as a supporter of Israel but also said, “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.”

Jewish organizations in the United States like AIPAC and the Anti Defamation League quickly expressed their dismay at Kerry’s private apartheid remarks. In a statement, Abe Foxman, the president of the Anti Defamation League, said, “It is startling and deeply disappointing that a diplomat so knowledgeable and experienced about democratic Israel chose to use such an inaccurate and incendiary term.” These remarks were echoed in a statement from AIPAC, the bipartisan pro-Israel lobby, which said, “Any suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate.”

Politicians also got involved in the brouhaha. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) urged Kerry to apologize, saying that the secretary of state’s remarks “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.” Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, shared Cantor’s outrage, saying, “These comments are outrageous and disappointing.”

But not everyone viewed Kerry’s remarks as a gaffe. J Street, the dovish, left-wing Middle East lobbying organization, issued a statement saying, “Instead of putting energy into attacking Secretary Kerry, those who are upset with the Secretary’s use of the term should put their energy into opposing and changing the policies that are leading Israel down this road.”

At Monday’s State Department press briefing, spokeswoman Jen Psaki made clear that Kerry believes Israel is “a vibrant democracy with equal rights for its citizens,” and noted the secretary of state was merely warning of the possible long-term consequences if a two-state solution couldn’t be reached.