US Secretary of State John Kerry’s harsh rebuke of Israel over its illegal settlements has set off a wave of criticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, highlighting the Zionist lobby’s deep influence over the US Congress.
The administration of US President Barack Obama allowed a UN Security Council resolution to pass on Friday by refusing to veto it, defying extraordinary pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and incoming US President Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, Kerry gave a speech at the State Department to defend Washington’s abstention at the UN Security Council, speaking with a clarity and harshness almost never heard from US diplomats when discussing one of their closest allies.
“The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements,” Kerry said.
“Some seem to believe that the US friendship means the US must accept any policy, regardless of our own interests, our own positions, our own words, our own principles — even after urging again and again that the policy must change,” he said. “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.”
Kerry also rejected Israeli claims of US collusion with other Security Council members and Palestinian officials, saying the decision to abstain from the vote was “’in accordance with our values.”
The sharp criticism against Kerry’s speech by US lawmakers on Capitol Hill was a reminder of the deep support Israel has in an otherwise sharply divided Congress.
“While he may not have intended it, I fear Secretary Kerry, in his speech and action at the UN, has emboldened extremists on both sides,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from the state of New York.
“Secretary Kerry’s speech today was at best a pointless tirade in the waning days of an outgoing administration,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. “At worst, it was another dangerous outburst that will further Israel’s diplomatic isolation and embolden its enemies.”
Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, he was unhappy that Obama had not vetoed the UN resolution and pledged to “explore congressional action that can mitigate the negative implications” of it.
Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, called Kerry’s speech “gratuitous” and “wrong.” “There doesn’t seem any purpose to this other than to embarrass Israel,” Engel said. “It just pained me to watch it.”
On vacation in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump posted two Twitter messages rejecting the speech before it was delivered. “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect,” he wrote on Wednesday morning.
Netanyahu took to his own podium following Kerry’s speech to rebuke it. “Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders,” Netanyahu said.