Israel’s ambassador to the United States has jumped to the aid of America’s top diplomat John Kerry, after he was attacked by Israel’s right-wing for his comments on boycotts.
Ron Dermer defended the US Secretary of State in an interview with TIME Magazine after Benjamin Netanyahu and others claimed Kerry had been trying to pressure Israel to make concessions during peace talks.
“I don’t think he was doing it in order to pressure Israel,” said Dermer. “I think he was making a descriptive statement.”
It follows Kerry’s talk of an “increasing delegitimisation campaign” at a security conference in Munich at the beginning of the month, comments jumped on by Netanyahu and his right-wing allies.
“We expect our friends in the world to stand by our side against anti-Semitic boycotts, not be their trumpet,” said settler leader Naftali Bennett.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz added: “One cannot expect Israel to participate in negotiations with a gun to its head.”
Netanyahu himself bristled with indignation, saying: “Attempts to impose a boycott on Israel are immoral and unjust.”
But Israel’s man in Washington inferred that they had misread Kerry’s comments, saying: “Secretary Kerry is opposed to the boycotting of Israel, something he made clear again this week.”
Despite having only been in the job for two months, Dermer is nevertheless part of Netanyahu’s inner circle. He was the prime minister’s senior adviser and confidante for many years, to such an extent that he has been nicknamed “Bibi’s brain”.
The diplomatic tit-for-tat comes at a sensitive time, with negotiations ongoing between Israel and the Palestinians.
Kerry began working to kick-start peace talks a year ago, and to the surprise of many his efforts bore fruit, with the two parties agreeing to talks in the summer.
A decorated war veteran and Yale graduate, Kerry has so far deflected the criticism he seems to have been expecting.
After the latest tirade, he said: “I’ve been attacked before by people using bullets, not words. I am not going to be intimidated.”