John Kerry is clearly not motivated by anti-Semitism, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said Monday, setting the record straight after a lawmaker from his own party last month accused the US secretary of state of harboring hatred for the Jewish people.
“Kerry is no anti-Semite. Whoever suggested that is flatly wrong,” Bennett, the chairman of the Jewish Home party, told American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. “We might sometimes disagree but America is our biggest friend; it’s our strategic friend. It’s not only an ally, it’s a big friend. However, definitely, we can agree to not agree.”
Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev had suggested in January that Kerry was at least partially motivated by anti-Semitism in his efforts to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks,
“The prime minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) is maneuvering under the obsessive and unprofessional pressures that might also bear an undertone of anti-Semitism on Kerry’s part,” MK Moti Yogev told Israel Radio.
Bennett said that after the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Washington pressured to Israel to allow free elections in the Palestinian Authority. Israel feared that would bring Hamas to power, but “they said no, you do it. Because this is what we think.” Hamas eventually won the elections and has since fired thousands of rockets at Israel, he said.
“So not always are international truisms true,” Bennett said. “Sometimes the world gets it wrong. In fact, historically, not only in reference to Israel, more times than not. At the end of the day, Israel is our home. We are responsible, it’s our children who will pay the price, and we will do what’s best for us and for the region.”
Addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which is holding its annual Israel Leadership Mission this week at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, Bennett slammed efforts to boycott Israeli products as a new kind of anti-Semitism and called upon world Jewry to counter such campaigns.
“The world needs Israel; Israel needs the world. I’m not at all ignoring those threats but let’s be clear. Anyone who proposes to boycott Israel — that’s an unacceptable approach. It’s a new form of anti-Semitism. Make no mistake: It’s not friendly criticism.”
Bennett, who also serves as minister for Diaspora affairs, then addressed the American Jewish leaders directly, telling them that even harsh criticism of Israel is acceptable but asking them to vocally oppose any efforts to boycott the country.
“My request to you is to speak up,” he said. “It’s fine to be critical, even very critical, of Israel. That’s fine. Since Israel is your home, you can be critical of your home. But it’s one thing to be critical and it’s one thing to boycott. So we’re going to fight back any of these forms of anti-Semitism. We’ll speak up. We’ll never be silent when facing lies. When we’re told that Israel is providing 17 liters of water to Palestinians when it the actual figure is 165, which is more than in most of the world, we will not remain silent ever. Facing lies we will not remain silent.”
Bennett was referring to an incident last week involving European Parliament President Martin Schulz. Schulz caused a minor diplomatic commotion when he delivered a generally pro-Israel speech in the Knesset plenum that contained a passage perceived by some right-wing politicians as containing false accusations over Israeli policies.
During his speech, Schulz recounted a meeting held two days earlier with young Palestinians in Ramallah. “One of the questions from these young men that moved me the most was: How can it be that Israelis are allowed to use 70 liters [of water] per day and Palestinians only 17?” Schulz related.
At that point in his speech, several right-wing MKs including Yogev yelled out in protest, calling the figures Palestinian lies, and a number of Jewish Home party lawmakers walked out. Minutes after Schulz finished speaking, Bennett released a statement demanding an apology. Later, Netanyahu took Schulz to task, accusing him of of having “selective hearing.”