WASHINGTON — In the midst of a firestorm over comments from State Department spokesman John Kirby, who seemed to accuse Israel of using excessive force against Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry denounced terrorism and emphasized that the US supports “Israel’s right to defend its existence.”
Speaking at Indiana University Thursday, Kerry addressed the ongoing violence in Israel, saying that the US had seen its “tragic” effects “on civilians who were just trying to go about their business in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.”
“We strongly condemn the terrorist attacks against innocent civilians,” he declared. “There is simply no justification for these reprehensible attacks and we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend its existence.”
At the same time, Kerry continued, “it is critically important that calm be restored as soon as possible.”
Kerry said that the US “will continue to stress the importance… of working to prevent inflammatory rhetoric, accusations, and actions that could contribute to violence.”
The firestorm over Kirby’s comments came as Washington was trying to reduce tensions in the wake of a speech Tuesday by Kerry himself, who appeared to link or equate a spate of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis with Israeli policies in the West Bank.
Israeli ministers, including Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, lashed out Thursday morning in response to Kirby’s statement a day earlier. During his daily press briefing, Kirby seemed to accuse Israel of using excessive force against Palestinians in response to the recent spate of attacks against Israeli civilians.
“I don’t know whether to call them naive, in the US State Department and in the American government,” complained Erdan. “Instead of putting out idiotic declarations that pretend to address two equally guilty sides, they [should] focus pressure on the murderous, inciting Palestinian Authority; because of its incitement, young people go out and commit murderous acts.”
Kirby had said the US had “seen some reports of security activity that could indicate the potential excessive use of force.” He did not elaborate on the incidents in question, and it was unclear if he was referring to Israel’s handling of Palestinian rioting or the shooting of knife-wielding Palestinian assailants, which many Palestinians and Israeli Arabs have claimed is excessive.
Describing the State Department as “traditionally hostile toward Israel,” Erdan said that for American officials “to allow themselves to be taken in by lies that are presented to the American State Department is very strange, amateurish or worse, especially when there is footage from all of these events.”
Amid reports that Kerry is trying to arrange meetings in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kerry acknowledged in his speech that he “expects to be traveling to the region in the coming days, and we will remain closely engaged to support efforts to stabilize the situation.”
Kerry will be overseas starting Friday, when he is scheduled to have meetings with French leaders in Paris. His travel plans to the region remain significantly more vague, and the State Department will not divulge which countries – or leaders – he expects to include on his itinerary.
Kerry devoted most of his talk to other topics, touching upon the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bill; the dangers of global warming and climate change; and the situation in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The challenges posed by the attacks in Israel and the West Bank and Afghanistan of course are symptoms of turbulence in the global scene,” Kerry said.