John Kerry is quickly proving to be a liability to the Obama administration’s latest attempts to bridge the gaps between Israel and its supposedly more moderate neighbors. Just last week he contradicted the optimism President Obama brought with him on his visit to Israel last month by predicting that the two state solution would be dead within two years. He gave the impression that not only was America pessimistic about the chances for peace, it was panicking about the peace process, and an America that is panicking cannot help create peace. Now Kerry has shot the president’s policies in the foot again, this time by comparing the victims of last week’s terrorist attack in Boston to the activists killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers on the Mavi Marmara in 2010.
Kerry’s exact words at a press conference in Istanbul were “I know it’s an emotional issue with some people. I particularly say to the families of people who were lost in the incident (the attempt by the Mavi Marmara to break the blockade) we understand these tragedies completely and we sympathize with them. And nobody – I mean, I have just been through the week of Boston and I have deep feelings for what happens when you have violence and something happens and you lose people that are near and dear to you. It affects a community, it affects a country. We’re very sensitive to that.”
Bad tact is one thing. It is insensitive to the victims of the bombings in Boston and their families to compare them to people who, in support of a recognized terrorist organization, tried to run a blockade declared legal by the United Nations and who violently attacked the soldiers who enforced said blockade. It is also insulting, at best, to Israel. Such problems could be resolved with apologies to the families of the victims in Boston and a clarification for Israel that Kerry was in no way equating the two events.
The larger problem is that it was an incredibly moronic thing to say to the Turkish people while trying to persuade Turkey to improve its relations with Israel. By even seeming to equate the deaths of the Mavi Marmara passengers with the deaths of innocent bystanders in Boston Kerry has equated Israel with the terrorists who planted the bombs last week. The implication that Israel committed terrorism against Turkish citizens does not even have to be twisted to be used to justify the hostility of the Erdogan government towards Israel and its refusal to fully reconcile with the Jewish state. If Israel killed those passengers in a terrorist action, how could Turkey be expected to mend its relationship with the country responsible?
Furthermore, Kerry’s stupidity has even harmed America’s ability to be an honest broker between Israel and Turkey. If the two events in Boston and on the seas off of Gaza are comparable, how can America honestly expect Turkey to turn the other cheek when America clearly has not and will not? If justice must be done with regards to the bombings in Boston, it must also be done with regards to the comparable event on the Mavi Marmara. Otherwise America is saying “do as we say but not as we do.” Turkey cannot be expected to comply with such blatant hypocracy.
It had been hoped that the Obama administration had learned from its first term mistakes with regards to the Middle East. But just like President Obama’s focus on the settlements forced Mahmoud Abbas turn the issue into a giant obstacle to negotiations, Kerry’s latest blunder has created a situation where the Turkish government cannot be seen as less sensitive to Turkish issues than America. With Abbas, the damage was done by the time President Obama realized his mistake, and negotiations have been stalled ever since. That may well happen again with Turkey after Kerry’s mistake.
This is the second potentially damaging gaffe Kerry has made regarding the Middle East in as many weeks. If the Obama administration is serious about its latest initiatives in the Middle East, it needs to rein Kerry in and insure that no such gaffes happen again. Otherwise all the administration will have accomplished is to make the situation in the Middle East even worse.