National Security Adviser Susan Rice and the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. sought to defuse criticism in Israel of Secretary of State John Kerry for his handling of cease-fire talks for the Gaza Strip.
Rice and Ambassador Ron Dermer both used a gathering in Washington yesterday of hundreds of American Jewish supporters of Israel to defend the top U.S. diplomat. Kerry drew scorn in Israeli media for offering peace plans that were interpreted as favoring the militant group Hamas at the expense of Israel’s security.
“We’ve been dismayed by some press reports in Israel mis-characterizing his efforts last week to achieve a cease-fire,” Rice told an overflow crowd of leaders of major U.S. Jewish organizations at the National Press Club.
“The reality is that John Kerry, on behalf of the United States, has been working every step of the way with Israel in support of our shared interests,” Rice said. “We’ll continue to set the record straight when anyone distorts the facts.”
Kerry, who failed to secure a cease-fire after a week-long round of shuttle diplomacy, was attacked in Israeli newspapers after Israeli officials leaked what they said was draft language of a cease-fire plan.
Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for the Israeli daily Haaretz, said the reported draft language “was everything Hamas could have hoped for.”
The draft was said to have called for lifting the economic blockade of Gaza without explicitly calling for the destruction of tunnels that Israel says Hamas uses to hide weapons and conduct cross-border raids.
Dermer, the American-born Israeli ambassador who took office last year, said criticism of Kerry for his “good-faith efforts” to secure a cease-fire was “unwarranted.” The former top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Netanyahu shared that view.
Asked about the criticism in Israel, Kerry told reporters in Washington today, “I’ve taken hits before in politics, I’m not worried about that. This is not about me, this is about Israel, and this is about Israel’s right to defend itself and our strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself.”
In remarks yesterday at the State Department that may have been aimed at reassuring Israelis and their American supporters, Kerry said, “Any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorist groups.”
In Cairo last week, Kerry said he never presented a formal proposal to Israel for a vote.
“There’s always mischief from people who oppose certain things, and I consider that one of those mischievous interpretations and leaks which is inappropriate to the circumstances of what we’ve been doing and are engaged in,” he said.
The defense of Kerry from top officials in both countries reflected unease among some Jewish leaders that President Barack Obama’s administration is working to assuage.
“I’m troubled by what I’ve seen in the last week, and I hope that it’s just a momentary blip in what has been very strong support for Israel,” Steve Sacks, chairman of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in an interview. The group’s website says it represents about 1.5 million Jews. “The Kerry peace proposal was ill-advised, and I hope they get to the right place.”
Senior members of Congress from both political parties also spoke at the event to express unwavering support for Israel.
While House Speaker John Boehner made no mention of Kerry or the Obama administration, the Republican leader said the U.S. can’t act “just as a broker or observer” on Israel’s behalf.
“What does that mean? Well, it doesn’t mean using vague, on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand statements,” Boehner of Ohio said. “No, it means backing up our words, and showing our solidarity with our friend.”
The Gaza conflict has claimed the lives of more than 1,050 Palestinians and 50 Israelis.
A poll commissioned by Israel’s Channel 10 television showed 87 percent support among Israelis for the military offensive and 69 percent saying it should continue until Hamas is toppled. Only 7 percent favored a cease-fire. The size of the polling sample and margin of error weren’t reported.
“Make no mistake,” Kerry said yesterday at the Center for American Progress, a Washington policy group. “When the people of Israel are rushing to bomb shelters, when innocent Israeli and Palestinian teenagers are abducted and murdered, when hundreds of innocent civilians have lost their lives, I will -- and we will -- make no apologies for our engagement.”
To contact the reporter on this story: David Lerman in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Walcott at email@example.com Larry Liebert, Justin Blum