Jewish Journal


Does Kerry Understand Why the “Apartheid” Comment Was Wrong?

by Shmuel Rosner

May 1, 2014 | 4:13 am

US Secretary of State John Kerry. Photo by Reuters


Israel’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Danni Danon, wrote a ridiculously combative article for Politico about Secretary of State John Kerry’s “apartheid” gaffe. Danon is only taken seriously by those who look at titles rather than the record and the actual influence of a person. He is an up and coming young politician, but right now his title is meaningless. He is Deputy Defense Minister by name only. And his criticism of Kerry is just business-as-usual for hardcore Likud young Turks. The headline – and of course, I don’t know if Danon had any part in it – is especially kooky: ‘We will not be threatened’. But you know that is not exactly true. When the US pressures Israel – it is pressured.

Still, Danon also has some things to say that are valid: “Time and again, Secretary Kerry’s erroneous declarations have come dangerously close to suggesting moral equivalency between Israel and its adversaries”, he writes, and it is hard not to agree. Danon also details the incidents he is talking about. The “third Intifada” comment, and the “boycott” comment, and now the “apartheid” comment – all add up to something, and of course, the question is to what. Danon believes that “they call into question his [Kerry’s] administration’s ability to act as an honest broker in our region”. I wouldn’t go that far. They call into question Kerry’s ability to speak without a prompter. He would do well to get a lesson from his boss, President Obama, on this issue.


Kerry is hardly the first person to mention “apartheid” in this context. He is also not the first senior American to use such language. Jimmy Carter was there way before Kerry. Hey, but Carter only did it when he was already a has-been. That’s true. Still, one might argue that when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process Kerry is also very close to being a has-been.


I deliberately refrained from writing about the gaffe earlier this week. That is, because I already said what I have to say the last time Kerry made a gaffe (Read: Kerry and Israel: A Warning from the Well-Intentioned Bully). Now I feel that my decision not to write about it was a mistake. This is the type of incidents that stay with us as a tool in the arsenal of the Palestinian Authority. As Palestinians go to the battle of denigrating Israel, they are going to keep using Kerry’s backtracked remarks. Some things – ask Donald Sterling – cannot be unsaid.

You can already see how the battle line is drawn. While Kerry himself clarified his remarks and said he wished he wouldn’t have used the A word (I am one of the naïve people who still believe that this was truly a gaffe, and not a sophisticated diplomatic cruise missile – among other things, because I fail to see any sophistication in Kerry’s handling of his job), the critics of Israel don’t accept the retraction. Here is one example of the way the Kerry remark is going to keep giving. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, apparently an expert on this issue as well as on so many others, announced that “The first thing to understand about this statement is that everything in it is completely true”. That is – in the original statement. Sargent, like many others, has a threefold technique to using Kerry:

1. Say that he was “right” (because Israel is, well, you know, is it not?).
2. Disregard his clarification by announcing that it’s a result of “lobby” pressure (if the lobby is so powerful, can it not prevent Kerry from saying such things to begin with?).
3. Pretend the original remark is really a token of friendship, to help Israel look in the mirror and understand its real situation (because there are things about Israel that only a liberal blogger in Washington can understand).


But really, Kerry’s comments were not just inaccurate, they were inaccurate in a specific and harmful way. Here’s what he said:

[A] unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.

Is there a plan for a unitary state? No, there isn’t (except in kooky books such as Caroline Glick’s). So Kerry is using here an unlikely hypothetical scenario – the one state – to warn Israel from an unlikely future. This scenario, the “one state solution”, is as likely to occur as it is for Texas to secede from the Union. It is not a plan, or a serious prediction, it is a propaganda tool used by the Palestinians. Yet, from this unlikely hypothesis Kerry draws his doomsday scenario: if the hypothesis becomes a reality then Israel will be forced to subject the Palestinian population to a second-class status or give them equality and lose Israel’s Jewishness.

The good news is that Kerry seems to understand that this was an unnecessary statement. The bad news is that we are still not sure if he also understands that this was a statement based on false presumption. That is – we don’t know if Kerry understands that there is no “one state solution” available for anyone if the “two state solution” keeps failing to materialize.

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