Kerry's comments came in a closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission, before senior officials from the United States, Europe, Russia, and Japan. They broke a longstanding taboo of American officials on using the loaded term to describe Israel — and Kerry is the most-senior U.S. official to have ever used it.
Jewish groups and leaders immediately denounced the comment, using a variety of adjectives — "loaded," "inaccurate," disturbing," "inappropriate," and "offensive" were only a few. Though many senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were silent on the comments, U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor demanded an apology from Kerry.
AIPAC, the powerhouse pro-Israel lobby, said Kerry's reported remarks were "deeply troubling."
"The reported remarks on apartheid by Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday are deeply troubling," the group said in a statement. "Any suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate. The Jewish state is a shining light for freedom and opportunity in a region plagued by terror, hate and oppression."
Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman was even sharper in his criticism, saying in a statement he was "startled and disappointed."
"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," Foxman said. "We appreciate Mr. Kerry's deep concern for Israel and his desires to ensure that it have a future of peace and security. Even if he used the repugnant language of Israel's adversaries and accusers to express concern for Israel's future, it was undiplomatic, unwise and unfair. Such references are not seen as expressions of friendship and support."
Other Jewish leaders pointed to comments from then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama in 2008, when he dismissed the use of the term as inappropriate in discussions about peace between Israel and Palestine. Obama called the term then "emotionally loaded" and "historically inaccurate."
Even supporters of the Obama administration's policies toward Israel found Kerry's comments difficult to defend.
"Anyone, to even remotely suggest that Israel could be an apartheid state is simply reckless, irresponsible, and has no basis in reality — no basis whatsoever in reality," said Ezra Friedlander, president of the Friedlander Group, which has been supportive of the administration.
He reiterated he thinks the Obama administration is "pro-Israel," but he said he thinks Kerry's status of being "emotionally and personally invested" in the peace talks may have spurred him to use such language.
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