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Kerry hits back at Israeli critics, says he won’t be cowed

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(JTA) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview that he is “not going to be intimidated” by people attacking him over his efforts to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I’ve been, quote, ‘attacked’ before by people using real bullets, not words, and I am not going to be intimidated,” Kerry told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview Wednesday night. “I am not going to stand down with respect to President Obama’s commitment to try to find peace in the Middle East.”

Kerry objected to the characterization of some of his recent statements, including remarks about increasing boycotts of Israel at the recent Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland, by Israeli right-wingers as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“No one should distort what we’re doing or saying because they’re opposed to the peace process or don’t like two states or whatever,” Kerry said.

“My comments need to be properly represented, not distorted.  I did not do anything except cite what other people are talking about as a problem, but I also have always opposed boycotts.”

Kerry added that he has met with the foreign ministers of 28 European Union states “to argue with them against taking any measures against Israel in order to give us the space to be able to negotiate.”

He reiterated that the United States and the Obama administration are “absolutely committed, ironclad, to the security of Israel.”

On Iran, Kerry said that Iran is “not open for business and Iran knows it’s not open for business.” He said he does not need to trust Iranian President Hassan Rouhani because the interim agreement signed by Iran an world powers “is based on verification, on specific steps,” not trust.

Also Wednesday, the U.S. State Department criticized the announcement of the approval of the construction of more than 550 new apartments for Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.

“Our position on Jerusalem is clear,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at the daily briefing. “We oppose any unilateral actions by either party that attempt to prejudge final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem.”

Psaki also addressed the issue of criticism of Kerry by right-wing Israeli lawmakers.

“These kind of attacks are unacceptable,” she said. “They not only distort his record but they distract from the key issues at hand.”

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