Last night US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a craven statement climbing down from his comments in a private meeting last Friday that Israel would become an “apartheid state” without a “two-state solution.”
Faced with howls of outrage from extreme anti-Palestinian groups, objections from Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer (California) and an outright call for his resignation from Republican Senator Ted Cruz (Texas), the hapless Kerry may have felt he had no choice.
Kerry acknowledged that Israeli leaders have frequently used the term “apartheid” to describe Israeli rule over Palestinians, but asserted that “it is a word best left out of the debate here at home.”
Yet with all Kerry’s abject willingness to appease, there is an interesting difference between his final published statement and the comments made on his behalf by State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki earlier in the day.
At the usual morning briefing, Psaki said “the Secretary [Kerry] does not believe and did not state publicly or privately that Israel is an apartheid state, and there’s an important difference there. Israel is obviously a vibrant democracy with equal rights for all of its citizens.”
The press statement Kerry issued later in the day contains similar language: “First, Israel is a vibrant democracy and I do not believe, nor have I ever stated, publicly or privately, that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one.”
But note that while Kerry repeated the claim that Israel is a “vibrant democracy,” he pointedly did not repeat Psaki’s assertion from earlier in the day that Israel provides “equal rights for all of its citizens.”
“Most significant” problem
The fact is that Israel discriminates systematically against its 1.5 million Palestinian citizens.
Indeed the claim Israel gives equal rights to all citizens contradicts even the State Department’s own reporting.
In its 2013 human rights report on Israel, the US government lists “institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens, including the Bedouin, in particular in access to equal education and employment opportunities” as among Israel’s “most significant human rights problems.”
Currently, Israel and the US are in a tussle over Israel’s wish to be included in the US Visa Waiver Program which would allow Israeli passport holders to enter the US without advance visas. The main obstacle is Israel’s systematic discrimination against US citizens of Palestinian and Arab descent.
It would appear that claiming Israel gives “equal rights for all citizens” was a stretch too far even for the pliant Kerry.
So what about Israel as a “vibrant democracy”? That’s just pandering too of course – unless one abides by Knesset member Ahmed Tibi’s famous quip that “Israel is democratic for Jews but Jewish for Arabs.”
There’s also a lesson for Palestinians in Kerry’s latest cave-in. As Yousef Munayyer has observed: “When US officials can’t even criticize Israel the way Israeli officials do, is there anyone who can still argue [that the] US should ‘mediate?’”