In Yiddish one says “shlimazl mit esik” – bad luck with vinegar. That’s what Secretary of State John Kerry has looked like, nebbish, in the past 48 hours. Not only is his immense, courageous but possibly reckless investment in the Arab-Israeli peace process about to go down the drain, now he is being forced to eat humble pie and to apologize for one little “apartheid” that escaped his lips in a closed forum. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be hilarious.
Don’t get me wrong: contrary to the derailment of the peace process, for which the parties to the conflict should be held responsible, this mess was entirely of Kerry’s own making. Just as he admonishes Vladimir Putin on a daily basis, Kerry should have known that gentlemanly 19th century rules of off-the-record briefings are no longer applicable in the media madhouse of the 21st century. As a veteran politician who has been around Washington for over 30 years, Kerry should also have remembered the strict politically-correct guidelines that apply to Israel: just as white people are forbidden from repeating the criticisms that African-Americans may hurl at themselves, so American statesman are not allowed to utter the word “apartheid,” despite the fact that numerous senior Israeli politicians have done so before.
Therefore, when Kerry told the exclusive Trilateral Commission that without a two-state solution, Israel risks turning into “an apartheid state with second–class citizens” he was using words that would hardly cause a ripple in the Knesset but nonetheless sparked a ruckus on Capitol Hill. When Kerry’s conservative critics and the peace process’ right-wing rivals were apprised of the discreet grumbles emanating from Jerusalem and the more vocal protestations of several Jewish organizations, they didn’t stop to ascertain the exact Kerry’s exact wording but launched an all-out offensive blasting his policies and demanding his head.
Unfortunately for Kerry, the developing apartheid storm caught his boss Barack Obama in a press conference in Manila at a particularly peevish time, as he angrily lashed out at his critics and tried to deflect a growing tide of disapproval of his overall foreign policy, from the Far to the Middle East and everything in between. Some White House officials, already uncomfortable with Kerry’s total devotion and what they felt was his unfounded optimism about prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace, began to tear their hair out when they heard about the apartheid brouhaha. The president has enough problems, they said, telling Kerry, according to knowledgeable sources, to strike the offending word from the record.
The bottom line is that the extraordinary personal statement that Kerry issued on Monday night delighted his enemies, who didn’t expect his resignation and were happy to make do with his humiliation. It satisfied Jewish leaders, who are apparently more concerned about the delegitimizing potential of the word “apartheid” being uttered by a Secretary of State than they are of creating the impression that they can dictate his statements. And it elated opponents of the peace process, who hope that the unpleasantness may quench Kerry’s Sisyphean thirst to reach a Middle East agreement.
And we are left with a poignant look at of yet another well-meaning American leader who wants to save Israel from itself and is put through the grinder in return, upholding one of Clare Booth Luce’s favorite expressions: “no good deed goes unpunished”. Now we have to wait and see whether Kerry opts to turn the other cheek, like a good Catholic, or to walk in the footsteps of Obama who, after similar Middle Eastern experiences, decided to adhere to the advice of the Book of Proverbs: “Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked; whoever guards his soul will keep far from them.”
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