Once again in his short tenure as secretary of state, John Kerry has created a stir with imprecise language.
In Turkey over the weekend, he made this comment regarding the Turkish flotilla:
I know it’s an emotional issue with some people. I particularly say to the families of people who were lost in the incident 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.
Some pro-Israel voices lambasted the secretary. In a statement, the Republican Jewish Coalition said: “We understand that Secretary Kerry has reason to be deeply worried by the disappointing results to date from the President’s push to end the rift between Israel and Turkey. But he needs to correct the record so that our allies and critics around the world don’t get the idea that the world’s most powerful democracy has lost its moral bearings.”
Seth Mandel echoed that sentiment: “The armed Turkish invaders Kerry has developed such sympathy for were on a ship funded by a terrorist organization with ties to Hamas and other jihadist groups seeking to challenge Israel’s navy in order to help Hamas. If they were victims at all, it was of their own violent ideology.” He also noted the push back from Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, who deplored “moral equivalency” and reiterated that “the only way to deal with the evils of terrorism [is] to wage an unrelenting war against its perpetrators wherever they may be.”
I asked the State Department if Kerry wished to clarify and/or if he was making a moral comparison between flotilla participants and innocent Boston victims. A State Department official authorized only to speak on background retreated but stopped short of apologizing for his boss’s gaffe: “In light of the recent events in his hometown of Boston, Secretary Kerry was expressing his own personal connection to the impact of tragedy on a community and was not comparing the two events — only the pain caused by violence. He has long said that both Prime Minister Erdogan and Prime Minister Netanyahu deserve a great deal of credit and he welcomes the restoration of positive relations.”
Unfortunately whenever the secretary speaks in public it is on behalf of the American people and our government. The transition from the Senate to the State Department has been a rocky one for Kerry, and confidence in his diplomatic abilities won’t rise after this latest incident. Neither should we lose track of the diplomatic misstep that brought Kerry to Turkey. After extracting a sort-of apology from Israel for defending itself in the flotilla incident, Kerry was repaid with new demands from Turkey and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announcing plans to visit Gaza.