As I wrote here a couple of days ago, John Kerry is now public enemy number one in the eyes of many Israelis. He won that title by making foolish comments on the coming of a third Palestinian intifada. And he also won this title by putting himself on the frontline of a bad deal with Iran. While having Kerry as the bad cop is probably very convenient for President Obama, it is worth reminding that the policy regarding Iran is a White House policy – not a policy directed from the State Department. Making Kerry the target of criticism about Iran, while sparing Obama the same level of criticism, is just not fair.
Having Kerry as the target is convenient not only for the President but also for the Israeli government. A battle between Netanyahu and Kerry is not a pretty sight, but until it reaches the presidential level this is not yet a full-blown crisis. In fact, Israel could still hope that Obama is letting Kerry play his part while still pondering a last minute intervention from the White House that (after making sure Kerry isn't humiliated, of course) would position the US somewhat closer to Israel’s stance on the Iran agreement.
Now that Kerry is in the limelight all sorts of discoveries about his alleged negative history with Israel are being exposed. In Maariv, Ben-Dror Yemini presented a letter from Kerry that was used by BDS activists – a letter that could be an intentional move or, more likely, a sloppy slippage (as Ron Kampeas seems to hint). All this should not come as great surprise. More than eight months ago I presented in this column seven reasons why Israel should worry more about the Kerry appointment than about the appointment of Chuck Hagel. As you might remember, Hagel was subjected to some fierce objections from pro-Israel groups and activists, but Kerry basically got a pass. Apparently, this was really the wrong choice.
Last week I also said that the tightening of sanctions is still very much on the table – and Kerry, appearing yesterday at a Senate hearing, did not convince all Senators that this initiative should be halted. He did succeed in making this issue seem a little bit more partisan than it looked last week. The attacks on him from Republican legislators might help him get more support from some of his fellow Democrats (this is still unlikely to block new Iran legislation – explanation here).
I was asked by several readers to explain why Kerry’s comments about the intifada were problematic. The simple answer: because by making them Kerry was indirectly (and, to give him the benefit of doubt, I assume that unintentionally) encouraging violence. When you threaten Israelis that if they don’t compromise they should expect violence, you essentially tell the Palestinians that such violence is, well, to be expected, and hence less unacceptable to Kerry than it should be. When Kerry was asked earlier this week to elaborate on the somewhat strange comments he had made earlier on the Kennedy assassination, his response was an adamant refusal to “go down this road”. Here: “I’m not going to go into it. It’s just inappropriate and I’m not going to do more than say that it’s a point of view that I have. But it’s not ripe or worthy or appropriate for me to comment further”. If only he would do the same in the Middle East- if only he would share his views just when he has something “ripe or worthy” (preferably both) to say- we would all be better off.