In recent days, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has seized on relatively obscure accusations of anti-Semitism made by hardly significant Israeli actors to delegitimize and distract from valid criticism of his approach to Middle East peacemaking.
This tactic was previously used effectively by Democrats in the 2012 U.S. general election when party activists seized on offensive statements about women made by extreme Republican figures,most notably Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, and thrust them into center stage. Made to look guilty by association, the GOP was forced to address the comments, and was immediately put on the defensive. The real issues were effectively sidelined for large segments of the election season.
Here is what happened.
Earlier this month in Munich, Kerry said, and not for the first time, that if the current framework peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority fail, Israel would inevitably face, among other things, violence, boycotts, de-legitimization and isolation.
Being that Kerry is by no means an impartial observer and is, in fact, a very active and significant player, his comments drew heavy backlash from Israelis who, for the most part, criticized his tacit legitimization of the threats against Israel and the actors behind them.
In all the reports on the extensive and varied criticism leveled against Kerry, I was able to identify only three individuals who referred to anti-Semitism at all.
The most senior of them was Economy Minister Naftali Bennett who said, “We expect of our friends in the world to stand by our side against the attempts to impose an anti-Semitic boycott on Israel, and not to be their mouthpiece.” He did not accuse Kerry of being an anti-Semite himself, but said that his words may have boosted an anti-Semitic initiative.
The second was Knesset Member Motti Yogev, a member of Bennett’s party who said, “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is acting under Kerry’s obsessive pressure, which may have anti-Semitic undertones.” Yogev is certainly closer to a direct accusation of anti-Semitism, although his comment is speculative and his use of the word “undertones” softens the charge.
“Until now, I thought that Kerry just didn’t understand the Middle East,” he said at the time. However, he added, “Tonight I realized that he is motivated by anti-Semitism, too. ‘Hit the Jew in his pocket’ – that has always been an anti-Semitic slogan.”
“Anti-Semites think that Jews are motivated by just one thing: money. And if you want to hurt them, hit them in the pocket,” he explained.
Mintz directly accused Kerry of anti-Semitism, fair and square.
But Adi Mintz is a super marginal and hardly relevant figure and Yogev is a low ranking freshman in Israel’s parliament. Putting the accusations in their correct place, a Reddit user, in a highly rated comment, compared them to “the TEA Party calling Obama a socialist.”
So for a U.S. Secretary of State to pay attention to Mintz’s comments would be unheard of, unless of course there was another play in motion.
And some play it was.
A day later, none other than United States National Security Adviser Susan Rice, took to Twitter to defend Kerry from “personal attacks” that some took to be a reference to the anti-Semitism accusation.
“Personal attacks in Israel directed at Sec Kerry totally unfounded and unacceptable,” she tweeted.
A full ten days after that, extending the furor far beyond its sell-by-date, John Kerry’s Jewish brother (he converted) penned a dramatic ode to John Kerry’s love of the Jews, replete with oodles of Holocaust imagery and stories about Israel, for Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot.
“…some have recently suggested that my brother, John Kerry, had expressed ‘anti-Semitic undertones’ in his pursuit of a framework for negotiations,” he wrote. “Such charges would be ridiculous if they were not so vile.”
Of course there is no way Cameron Kerry would have published something like this without specific permission from his brother, John. In addition, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv actively promoted it on Facebook, translating it in full from the original Hebrew to English.
Even as I write these words, almost three full weeks since Kerry made his comments, Israeli leaders are still on the defensive, reasserting that John Kerry is not, in fact, an anti-Semite.
Like the Democrats in 2012, Kerry is free from addressing the real issue, which, as I wrote last month, is that he insists on talking to the Israelis like he is a mafia kingpin.
Israeli cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen put it well in his Dry Bones comic strip. “I aint threatening youse guys with boycotts and stuff, I’m just sayin’ that these things can ‘happen,’” he depicts Kerry as saying. “And without our ‘protection’ you Israelis could get hurt. Real bad.”
The point is that Kerry should never refer to anti-Israel boycotts, violence or de-legitimization as an inevitable outcome of anything, never mind a failure of peace talks, the success of which will likely not ever be in Israel’s hands anyway.
Kerry may not be an anti-Semite, but talking like he does surely enables anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hate whether deliberate or not.
By inflating the anti-Semitism charge, he is walking away scott free.