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Israel Foreign Minister defends Kerry from 'anti-semitism' accusation

 

Israel's Foreign Minister defended U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after remarks by members of Israel's governing coalition accused America's top diplomat of making anti-Semitic remarks about a possible boycott of the Jewish state. 

Avigdor Lieberman called Kerry "a true friend of Israel," Sky News reported Sunday.

"The man has a record of 29 years in the Senate," Lieberman added. "You can see all of his votes, all of his speeches. It's natural to have differences of opinion, but to call somebody anti-Semitic or an enemy of the people, or not an honest-broker because of differences of opinion?"

"We shouldn't take friends and turn them into enemies."

Kerry had come under heavy criticism from some Israeli officials after warning of "an increasing de-legitimization campaign" against the country at a security conference in Germany earlier this month. 

"There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things," Kerry said in the Feb. 1 speech. "Today's status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It's not sustainable. It's illusionary."

Since becoming Secretary of State, Kerry has repeatedly visited the Middle East in an attempt to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table after months without talks. 

In response, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party said Israel can't be expected "to conduct negotiations with a gun pointed to its head," and called Kerry's comments offensive.

Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, from the religious, pro-settler Jewish Home party, suggested Kerry was siding with Israel's foes. "We expect our friends around the world to stand beside us, against anti-Semitic boycott efforts targeting Israel, and not for them to be their amplifier," said Bennett, a fierce critic of the Kerry-led talks.

U.S. officials had answered the criticism with remarks of their own. National Security Adviser Susan Rice tweeted Monday that "personal attacks in Israel directed at Sen. Kerry totally [are] unfounded and unacceptable" and added that the U.S. government "has been clear and consistent that we reject efforts to boycott or delegitimize Israel."

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.