Top American Jewish leaders had harsh words Sunday for U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, and the Obama administration. Their comments came after recent remarks made by Kerry on Israeli-Palestinian Authority peace talks, and after the U.S. allegedly came within a hair’s breadth of signing a deal with Iran that would relieve sanctions on the country while allowing it to maintain its nuclear capability.
Kerry’s controversial comments were made in a joint interview with Israel’s Channel 2 news and Palestine TV. He predicted a nightmare scenario in the event that the current talks break down.Visibly agitated, Kerry berated Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, saying, “The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos.”
“Does Israel want a third intifada?” he asked. “I believe that if we do not resolve the issues between Palestinians and Israelis, if we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, there will be an increasing campaign of the de-legitimization of Israel that has been taking place on an international basis.”
“When a Secretary of State talks about starting a third Intifada, especially amid rising violence, it could have the effect, directly or indirectly of lighting the fuse,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, responding to Kerry’s remarks, in an interview with The Algemeiner.
“The danger here is that you legitimate an escalation by saying that ‘because there is no progress it can start an Intifada.’ There are elements there that will use this to legitimize what they are doing,” Hoenlein said. “We had a situation in the past where comments by American leaders and others set the standard for what Palestinian leaders say and do.”
While extending the benefit of the doubt to Kerry’s intentions, famed attorney Alan Dershowitz was terse. “Secretary of State John Kerry is trying his hardest to bring the parties together, but I am sure he regrets having mentioned the third Intifada. The secretary of state should not be saying anything that could be misconstrued as a prediction or a legitimization of terrorist violence,” he said.
In an interview with Israeli radio, Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman described Kerry’s comments as “outrageous” and said that the Secretary of State’s “chutzpah” would unite the American Jewish community.
“It is chutzpah to lecture Israel about the risks of peace and war,” Foxman said.
Besides finding the comments offensive and possibly dangerous, the leaders agreed that they would most likely be counterproductive as well.
“The Secretary introduced views that can only complicate the process. It would be more productive to exhort the parties to work toward compromise, rather than speculating on worst-case scenarios,” said Daniel Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith International executive vice president.
Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, asked: “Why would the Palestinians negotiate on anything when the secretary of state calls settlements ‘illegal’, when he says Israeli troops have to leave West Bank, when he increases aid to the PA when their corruption infuriates the Palestinian street, and seems to make no demands for Palestinians to once and for all stop the attacks on their neighbor’s legitimacy?”
The leaders made clear however that Kerry’s comments ranked in distant second place in their hierarchy of grievances, and insisted that the issue of Iran was foremost on their agenda.
Of specific concern was the Obama administration’s apparent willingness, in the ongoing discussions in Geneva between world powers and Iran, to allow the Islamic Republic to retain is capacity to produce nuclear weapons while acceding to the weakening of sanctions, leveled by the international community against the regime.
“As a result of what is going on around the world, you can’t ask Israel to focus on what is going on with the Palestinians, the Palestinians don’t pose an existential security threat to Israel, and the Iranians do,” said Dershowitz. “And at this point in time, Israel has to be focusing all of its attention on the Iranian situation which could result in a major disaster for its security, unless it continues to pressure the United States to do the right thing.”
“As long as the Iranian issue is on the front burner, don’t expect the Palestinian issue to get significant attention,” he added, describing Kerry’s comments about the peace talks as “yesterday’s news.”
“Just two weeks ago Samantha Power told us in her office that all options were on the table re Iran. Events of recent days in Geneva make such assertions not credible,” SWC’s Cooper said.
The leaders anticipate a strong reaction from the American Jewish community over these latest developments.
“Many withheld any comment about Secretary Kerry’s one-sided lambasting of Israel over negotiations with Palestinians because of the belief that the U.S. and Israel were coordinating on a much more immediate existential threat–Iran’s nuclearization,” Cooper said.
“I think there will be a much stronger pushback on Iran,” said Dershowitz. “Look, on Iran, the American Jewish community – with the exception of J-Street – is united. On the peace process not as much, so I think we are going to see most of the pushback on Iran.”
Hoenlein says that he sees a “developing response” from the Jewish community “based on a number of factors,” including Kerry’s comments and the administration’s approach to Iran.
As a result of the recent developments, Hoenlein, who was among four Jewish leaders who met with White House officials last month to discuss the administration’s position on Iran sanctions, said that his group and others were pushing for another meeting “as soon as is possible.”
“From where I sit, Mr. Kerry is driving Israeli and Jewish diaspora leaders to back Bibi (Netanyahu) in both the Iran and Palestinian domains,” Rabbi Cooper concluded.
“There is no doubt that our position and concerns will be heard,” Hoenlein promised.