Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany a week ago, US Secretary of State John Kerry made the reasonable observation that if peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority collapse, Israel is likely to face increasing pressure from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Secretary Kerry made this observation out of concern for one of America’s closest allies. For while the US government, including Secretary Kerry, are on record firmly opposing BDS and other attempts to isolate Israel, there are also limits to its ability to prevent such activities. The US can’t keep the largest Dutch pension fund from divesting from Israeli banks, nor keep Norway’s Sovereign Wealth fund – the largest such fund in the world – from banning investment in Israeli companies, nor keep Denmark’s largest bank from blacklisting Bank Hapoalim.
All of these regrettable occurrences happened in recent weeks despite staunch US opposition to BDS. Secretary Kerry merely pointed out the reality that this alarming trend is likely to pick up speed if the status quo between Israel and the Palestinians remains unchanged.
And yet, despite the plain reasonableness of Secretary Kerry’s comments, certain Israeli politicians used the occasion to distort his words and imply that he was somehow condoning the BDS movement.
Despite his tireless determination to help Israel safeguard a secure and prosperous future for itself, Secretary Kerry’s words were twisted to suggest that he was calling for BDS, rather than warning against it.
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett responded to Secretary Kerry’s comments by stating that Israel expects its friends to “stand beside us, against anti-Semitic boycott efforts targeting Israel, and not for them to be their amplifier.”
Yuval Steinitz, the strategic affairs minister, was equally antagonistic, calling Secretary Kerry’s comments “offensive, unfair and intolerable.”
What is truly intolerable is the extent to which certain forces in Israel appear to be seeking out opportunities – no matter how farfetched – to discredit the American secretary of state. As individuals who are deeply devoted to promoting strong US-Israel bonds and who appreciate the essential role that the US plays in keeping Israel safe, the apparent ease with which elements of the current Israeli government are willing to flout basic precepts of diplomatic courtesy is deeply concerning.
Thankfully, Secretary Kerry appears undeterred from his mission to bring long-term peace and security to the Jewish state. Speaking to CNN earlier this week, Secretary Kerry rationally wrote off the distortionary comments as being part of select individuals’ larger attempt to derail the peace process.
“Unfortunately, there are some people in Israel and in Palestine and in the Arab world and around the world who don’t support the peace process. There are specifically some people who don’t support two states,” Kerry said in explaining the critical remarks. Kerry went on to make clear that he would not let these naysayers stand in his way.
“I am not going to be intimidated,” he said. “I am not going to stand down with respect to President [Barack] Obama’s commitment to try to find peace in the Middle East.”
Israel should be grateful for Secretary Kerry’s resolve. The American secretary of state has proven himself to be a true and loyal friend of Israel.
Throughout his nearly three decades in the US Senate he stood with Israel time and time again and has powerfully promoted Israel’s interests in the international arena since assuming his duties as America’s top diplomat.
If his efforts to advance a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fail, and he is cast aside, Israel will likely be left to contend with a far less friendly broker. As Foreign Minister Avidgor Liberman has noted, if this American effort collapses the international community will most likely step in and “any other proposal from the international community won’t be as good.”
In short, the stakes right now are high. This round of American-brokered peace talks may present Israel with uniquely favorable conditions in which to advance a resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians that, if left unchanged, threatens to derail Israel’s economic progress and undo the Zionist ideal of creating a Jewish and democratic state.
It remains unclear whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is ready to go the distance required to reach a sustainable agreement. He certainly has a long way to go toward quashing incitement and preparing his people for the compromises necessary to make a deal before he could elicit our full confidence. But what is clear is that Israel cannot afford either to sit by idly while this valuable opportunity passes or to intentionally fray relations with its most trusted and important ally.
For the sake of a secure, prosperous, Jewish and democratic future for the State of Israel and harmonious US-Israeli relations, let’s hope all elements of the Israeli government remember Secretary Kerry’s honorable ambitions and the importance of civility. If not, let’s at least remember that Secretary Kerry is a true and long-term friend of Israel.
Peter A. Joseph sits on the Board of Directors of the Shalom Hartman Institute and is the chairman of the Israel Policy Forum. Charles R. Bronfman is a board member of the Israel Policy Forum and chairman of its Advisory Council.
Originally published in the Jerusalem Post