John Kerry labelled 'anti Semite' for warning of possible boycott of Israel
US Secretary of State has been labelled an 'anti Semite' for warning of a possible economic boycott if Israel fails to reach a peace accord with the Palestinians
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, triggered an angry backlash from Israeli leaders on Sunday after warning Israel faces an economic boycott if it failed to reach a peace accord with the Palestinians.
The uproar came as Mr Kerry held cordial talks with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif in Munich at which the pair vowed to intensify nuclear diplomacy.
Ministers in Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet accused Mr Kerry of effectively endorsing "anti-Semitic" efforts to impose sanctions on Israel by issuing the warning.
"The risks are very high for Israel," Mr Kerry told the conference. "People are talking about boycott. That will intensify in the case of failure.
"Do they want a failure that then begs whatever may come in the form of a response from disappointed Palestinians and the Arab community?"
While the US secretary of state's remarks were made against a backdrop of new EU regulations barring deals with Israeli businesses based in West Bank settlements, they provoked accusations that he was threatening Israel in on-going peace talks with the Palestinians.
Yuval Steinitz, the intelligence and strategic affairs minister and a close ally of Mr Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said America's top diplomat was "holding a gun to [Israel's] head".
"The things Kerry said are hurtful, they are unfair and they are intolerable," Mr Steinitz told reporters.
"Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a gun to its head when we are discussing the matters which are most critical to our national interests."
Naftali Bennett, the industry minister and leader of the far-Right Jewish Home party, said: "We expect of our friends in the world to stand by our side against the attempts to impose an anti-Semitic boycott on Israel, and not to be their mouthpiece."
His comments were echoed by Adi Mintz, a senior official in the Settler's Council, who accused Mr Kerry of "an anti-Semitic initiative".
"The anti-Semites have always resorted to a very simple method - hit the Jews in their pockets," he told Israel's Channel 10 TV station.
Mr Netanyahu was more restrained, telling Sunday's cabinet meeting that efforts to impose a boycott were "immoral and unjust" and doomed to fail.
The apparently choreographed chorus of criticism drew a sharp response from the US state department, which denied that Mr Kerry - who is currently trying to draw up a framework agreement between Israel and the Palestinians - was backing an international embargo.
"His only reference to a boycott was a description of actions undertaken by others that he has always opposed ," said Jen Psaki, a state department spokeswoman.
"[Mr Kerry] expected opposition and difficult moments in the process, but he also expects all parties to accurately portray his record and statements."
The row overshadowed a meeting on Sunday between Mr Kerry and Mr Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, to discuss forthcoming talks on Tehran's nuclear programme, scheduled to resume in Vienna this month.
Mr Kerry told Mr Zarif that existing international embargoes would remain in place, despite an interim deal concluded in Geneva last November that gave Iran limited sanctions relief in exchange for suspending some of its nuclear activities. The upcoming talks are aimed at achieving a definitive long-term agreement.
Mr Zarif told the Munich conference that Iran had the political will to reached a "balanced" long-term agreement with the six world powers of America, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany.
"I think the opportunity is there, and I think we need to seize it," he said.