WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry issued an unusual statement Monday evening expressing his support for Israel after a controversy erupted over a politically charged phrase he used in a private appearance.
Speaking to a closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission last week, Mr. Kerry said that if a Middle East peace agreement was not achieved, Israel risked becoming an “apartheid state,” according to an article in The Daily Beast, an online publication. The comments were noted in the Israeli news media and were severely criticized by some American Jewish organizations.
“Any suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said. “Israel is the lone stable democracy in the Middle East, protects the rights of minorities regardless of ethnicity or religion.”
Republican lawmakers were also critical. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and possible presidential contender, said Mr. Kerry’s comments were “outrageous and disappointing.”
In the statement that Mr. Kerry issued Monday, which bore the title “On Support for Israel,” he said that he had been a staunch supporter of Israel during his years as a senator and had spent many hours since working with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.
“For more than 30 years in the United States Senate, I didn’t just speak words in support of Israel,” Mr. Kerry said in his statement. “I walked the walk when it came time to vote and when it came time to fight.”
Mr. Kerry added that he did not believe that Israel was an “apartheid state” or intended to become one. Mr. Kerry did not dispute he had used the phrase but said it had led to a “misimpression” about his views.