The State Department today defended Secretary of State John Kerry against criticism over his mention of boycott movements at the Munich Security Conference over the weekend.
Kerry was outlining what would happen if his Middle East peace process effort broke down. “You see, for Israel there’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up,” Kerry said. “People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things. Are we all going to be better with all of that?”
Without mentioning Kerry by name at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the boycott efforts “cause the Palestinians to become entrenched behind their intransigent positions and push peace farther away, and secondly, no pressure will cause me to give up vital Israeli interests, first and foremost the security of Israel’s citizens.”
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz called Kerry’s words “offensive, unreasonable and unacceptable,” adding, “It is impossible to expect Israel to negotiate with a gun to its head.”
In an open letter to Kerry today, Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman said “describing the potential for expanded boycotts of Israel makes it more, not less, likely that the talks will not succeed; makes it more, not less, likely that Israel will be blamed if the talks fail; and more, not less, likely that boycotts will ensue.”
“Your comments, irrespective of your intentions, will inevitably be seen by Palestinians and anti-Israel activists as an incentive not to reach an agreement; as an indicator that if things fall apart, Israel will be blamed; and as legitimizing boycott activity. What is particularly troubling about your comments is the absence of similar tough talk about the consequences for Palestinians should the talks fail,” Foxman continued. “…Its absence suggests a historical amnesia about why there has been no peace and no solution all these years.”
When asked about the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement at today’s State Department press briefing, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said “we are absolutely opposed, we have been opposed at boycotts boycotting Israel.”
“Secretary Kerry, himself, personally — who of course is the world’s chief — or the United States’ chief diplomat at this point — has a proud record of over three decades of steadfast support for Israel’s security and well being, including staunch opposition to boycotts,” Psaki continued.
“…There is no greater advocate, or opponent, I should say, to boycotts, or proponent of Israel’s security and their future.”
She maintained that Kerry’s “only reference to a boycott in his remarks was a description of action undertaken by others that he has been a vocal opponent of, he has taken actions to oppose. So, there should be no confusion or question about his record or his view on this interest.”
“What’s important is that the people of Israel understand and know that you cannot find a greater opponent of boycotts from Secretary Kerry and his record speaks to that,” Psaki said. “And all we can do here is continue to convey what is accurate and what the facts are and so, yes, he does expect that the parties and whether they’re for or against his efforts or any efforts at all, will not distort his facts or his record. And that’s why we’re speaking forcefully on this issue.”
Psaki claimed that the Mideast talks are “at a point in the process where we are discussing a framework for negotiations moving forward.”
“The parties who are negotiating over this are committed to sitting down at the table, addressing the tough choices,” she said. “We can’t make a prediction of what the outcome will be, but it is not a surprise that at this challenging time in the process, given that we are talking about the core issues, that things have become more challenging politically.”