The weather didn’t create the only storm over Norpac’s Mission to Washington last week. Just days before the event, Secretary of State Kerry set off a firestorm of criticism when, in an off-the-record comment caught on video, he warned that Israel could become an apartheid state if the peace process doesn’t move forward.
That Israeli leaders, including former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, have made similar statements didn’t stop the pro-Israel community from jumping on the secretary’s comments, calling for an apology, and in some cases for his resignation. Mr. Kerry retracted the statement soon after, but with the comments still fresh in everybody’s minds, many saw the Norpac mission as an opportunity to voice frustration.
During his plenary speech to Norpac, Senator Ted Cruz, who earlier had called on Mr. Kerry to resign, lashed out at the secretary.
“Now Secretary Kerry claims he misspoke, and I’m glad he’s attempted to retract his comments, but unfortunately those remarks are part of a long series of damaging comments and positions we have seen that have undermined our relationship with the nation of Israel,” the Texas Republican said.
Even Democrats sought to distance themselves from Mr. Kerry. During his opening remarks at the plenary, Senator Bob Menendez rejected calls for boycotts of Israel and “any comment that suggests Israel runs the risk of being named an apartheid state. They are wrong.”
Many members of Congress and their staff who met with Norpac on Wednesday said they were “deeply disturbed and bothered by that terminology,” the OU’s Rabbi Steven Weil, said. “The problem is the enemies of Israel will employ that terminology.”
Norpac’s leaders also expressed disappointment with the secretary’s comments, but they pointed to Mr. Kerry’s record and appeared willing to forgive.
Rabbi Menachem Genack said he was “disappointed” by Mr. Kerry’s “unfortunate remark,” but warned against reading too much into it.
“He has a long history of support for Israel,” Rabbi Genack said. “He cares about Israel. I don’t think otherwise. In his position as secretary of state, it was unfortunate.”
Dr. Ben Chouake, Norpac’s president, called the apartheid remark “unfortunate,” but recognized the secretary’s apology.
“Nobody’s happy with it and I don’t think he’s happy with it either,” Dr. Chouake said. “He has a lifetime of support for U.S.-Israel relations. I think we can give him a pass.”