WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Israeli defense minister’s reported description of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as “messianic and obsessive” is “offensive and inappropriate,” the State Department said in a rare and sharp rebuke to Israel.
“The remarks of the Defense Minister, if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate especially given all that the United States is doing to support Israel’s security needs,” Jen Psaki, the State Department’s spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Yediot Acharonot on Tuesday quoted Moshe Yaalon as telling colleagues behind closed doors that Kerry’s pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian peace was “messianic and obsessive.”
“The security program the Americans presented us with isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” Yaalon reportedly said, referring to an as-yet unpublished proposal drafted by U.S. Gen. John Allen that Kerry believes would facilitate Israel’s withdrawal from much of the West Bank.
“It has no peace and no security,” Yaalon reportedly said. “Only our continued presence in Judea and Samaria and on the Jordan River will ensure that Ben Gurion Airport and Netanya will not become targets for missiles from every which way. Secretary of State John Kerry, who came to us determined and acting out of some incomprehensible obsession and a messianic feeling, can’t teach me a thing about the conflict with the Palestinians.”
Psaki countered that Kerry and Allen “have been working day and night to try to promote a secure peace for Israel because of the secretary’s deep concern for Israel’s future. To question his motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally.”
Yaalon has not denied the comments, but said in a statement released to the Israeli media that the United States was “our greatest friend and most important strategic partner, and if we have differences we work them out behind closed doors, including with Secretary of State Kerry, with whom I have numerous conversations regarding the future of Israel.”
Yaalon also described Israel’s relations with the United States as “intimate and of great significance for us.”
His reported comments drew sharp rebukes from his colleagues.
“Even when we have disagreements with the U.S., they are always on the heart of the matter, not on the merits of an individual,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a Knesset speech reported by The Jerusalem Post.
Tzipi Livni, the lead negotiator with the Palestinians and justice minister, wrote on her Facebook page, “One can oppose the talks in a substantive and responsible way without verbal abuse and destroying relations with our most important friend.”
U.S. Jewish groups mostly did not weigh in on the matter, with the exception of Americans for Peace Now, which called on other Jewish organizations to join it in “speaking out against his tirade.”
Reached in Israel, Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, said the incident was a “tempest in a teapot.”
“If he said it, he said it privately,” Foxman said. “God knows what the Americans say privately about the negotiations. Whoever leaked it is trying to make mischief between our two countries.”