Kerry's 'Apartheid' Comment About Israel Proves Polarizing

In a leaked recording, John Kerry warned Israel could become an "apartheid state" if it doesn't reach a two-state solution with Palestinian officials.
Posted at 2:44 PM, Apr 28, 2014

It's a pretty loaded term that conjures up images of South Africa's brutal system of racial discrimination. 

The U.S. secretary of state just dropped the A-word when talking about Israel. (Via U.S. Department of State

The Daily Beast obtained a leaked audio recording from a closed-door meeting Friday between John Kerry and other world leaders. In it, Kerry warns Israel is at risk of becoming "an apartheid state" if Israeli and Palestinian leaders can't come up with a two-state solution.

Israeli media and pro-Israel lobbying groups were quick to condemn the comments. (Via Israel Today, Emergency Committee for Israel

Comments that mark a pretty big departure from the way U.S. officials have talked about Israel in the past. 

President Obama has refrained from using the term "apartheid," which he described in 2008 as "emotionally loaded" and "historically inaccurate." (Via The White House)

As for Kerry, his use of the provocative term — while a first — perhaps isn't terribly surprising. He already has a somewhat strained relationship with Israel. (Via YouTube / IsraeliPM

​He's been critical of Israel’s plans to build new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (Via Euronews)

He recently threatened the country with a boycott and warned Israel would face a "third Intifada" from the Palestinians should the peace talks collapse — and by Kerry's own admission, the negotiations show signs of unraveling. (Via The Wall Street JournalThe Times of Israel, The Guardian)

Kerry's latest comments, of course, aren't sitting well among those who argue conditions for Arabs in Israel, even if discriminatory, are nothing compared to the horrors experienced under South Africa's infamous apartheid state.

Back in 2011, former South African Judge Richard Goldstone wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times, the term "apartheid" is "an unfair and inaccurate slander against Israel, calculated to retard rather than advance peace negotiations."

The International Criminal Court defines apartheid as "inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group."

Critics say Israel's current treatment of Palestinian Arabs, broadly speaking, meets that definition.

Former President Jimmy Carter among them. He told NPR back in 2007, "apartheid" accurately described the situation in the West Bank. 

And as Think Progress points out, several prominent Israeli politicians, including two former prime ministers, have warned their country was at risk of becoming an apartheid state absent a two-state solution. 

The State Department later clarified to The Daily Beast Kerry's comments were an attempt to reiterate his view that a two-state solution was the only path forward in the Middle East.