US Secretary of State John Kerry came under fire from right-wing Israeli politicians Friday after saying that the Israeli Palestinian conflict was fueling the spread of Islamic terror in the Middle East.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett indicated that Kerry was using an anti-Semitic canard and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan accused the top US diplomat of showing an unprecedented lack of understanding of the Middle East.
Speaking at an event marking the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha at the State Department Thursday, Kerry said it was “imperative” to restart stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks, since the conflict was helping the Islamic State recruit new members.
“There wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt –- and I see a lot of heads nodding –- they had to respond to,” he told gathered diplomats.
“People need to understand the connection of that. And it has something to do with humiliation and denial and absence of dignity,” he added.
Writing on Facebook, Bennett, who heads the nationalist Jewish Home party, a major coalition member, linked to an article about Kerry’s remarks, commenting in Hebrew that “Even when a British Muslim beheads a British Christian, someone will always blame the Jew.”
Likud minister Erdan, thought to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pick to become Interior Minister, also blasted Kerry on Facebook, asking sarcastically whether anybody truly believes Islamic State fighters would put down their arms if Israeli-Palestinian talks were restarted.
“I actually respect Kerry and his efforts, but every time he breaks new records of showing a lack of understanding of our region and the essence of the conflict in the Middle East I have trouble respecting what he says,” he wrote in Hebrew.
Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked also expressed dismay over the statement.
This is not the first time Kerry has been criticized by members of Israel’s ruling coalition.
In January, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was quoted calling Kerry “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic” in his efforts to coax the two sides into a peace agreement. Ya’alon said Kerry has “nothing to teach me about the conflict with the Palestinians.
“All that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace,” Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth quoted him saying at the time.
Those comments sparked a mini diplomatic crisis between Jerusalem and Washington, with the State Department calling the comments “offensive and inappropriate” and Ya’alon issuing an apology.
Relations between Washington and Jerusalem, which counts the US as its most important ally, have hit regular road bumps over the last several years and the administrations have aired differences over peace talks, settlement building, Iran’s nuclear program and other issues.