While visiting Turkey on Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry compared the deaths of nine Turkish nationals in the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid to those killed in the recent Boston Marathon bombing. By extension, Kerry was comparing the Israeli military to terrorists.
Speaking in Istanbul, Kerry said that after what Americans had gone through in Boston last week, "I have deep feelings for what happens when you have violence, when something that happens when you lose people that are near and dear to you. It affects the community; it affects the country."
The remark was made in the context of addressing the May 2010 Israeli interception of a Turkish-led flotilla attempting to break the maritime blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Kerry said he could understand the pain and frustration of the families of those aboard the flotilla's lead ship, the Mavi Marmara, nine of whom lost their lives after violently attacking the Israeli boarding party.
While Kerry likely didn't intend to draw moral equivalence between Israel's action and the Boston bombing, his remarks are another indication of how little Washington understands about the region.
Every Turk and Arab with animosity toward Israel will understand what Kerry said as support for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's previous labeling of the Israeli raid as an act of piracy, and of Israel as a terrorist state. And that will only make rapprochement between the two sides more difficult.
At the urging of Kerry's boss, President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did apologize to Turkey earlier this month for "operational errors" that had possibly contributed to the deaths aboard the Mavi Marmara.
But, Israel has not apologized for the raid itself, which Jerusalem maintains was carried out in accordance with international law permitting the maritime blockade of territories with which a nation is at war. The UN itself later backed up Israel's version of events.
For Kerry to fail to address the legitimacy of the Israeli action, while comparing its aftermath with that of the a clear terrorist attack like the Boston bombing, is extremely problematic for Israel.
"It is never helpful when moral equivalence is made confusing terrorists with their victims," Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon told The Times of Israel in response to Kerry's remarks.
The Jerusalem Post quoted Labor Party MK Nachman Shai as saying that Kerry had "completely distorted reality and turned white into black and black into white. How can he make such a comparison? In Boston, terrorists killed civilians. On the Mavi Marmara ship, terrorists were killed."
It is little wonder that Kerry's diplomatic mission to the region aimed at rapprochement between Israel and Turkey and jump-starting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has thus far failed to yield positive results.
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