Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last weekend for raising the possibility that Israel might be subjected to an economic boycott if it cannot make progress toward establishing a Palestinian state on the West Bank. Some of the prime minister's associates even accused Mr. Kerry of being "anti-Semitic" - and of encouraging European advocates of a boycott.
But Secretary Kerry was not attacking Israel - or advocating a boycott.
Far from it, he has already helped delay the application of new guidelines by the European Union that would deny the use of funds from its budget for the benefit of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal in the view of the EU and the United States.
Also, the State Department last week deplored decisions by major banks in Sweden and Denmark to cut off business with Israeli banks doing business with the West Bank settlements. Earlier last year, a major Dutch pension fund decided to disinvest in Israel.
In the remarks that drew Prime Minister Netanyahu's ire, Secretary Kerry was merely predicting that such punitive moves against Israel are likely to gain momentum if there is no progress toward a settlement with the Palestinians.
At the Munich Security Conference in Germany last Saturday, Mr. Kerry said: "Today's status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It's not sustainable. It's illusionary. You see for Israel, there's an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talks of boycotts and other kinds of things."
Last week, Israel's Finance Minister Yair Lapid made the same point in remarks at a conference at the Tel Aviv Institute for National Security Studies. Mr. Lapid warned that failure to reach a peace settlement could lead to a European boycott movement that would slash Israel's exports by at least 20 percent, create unemployment and trigger inflation. Mr. Lapid warned: "Israel's economy today is much more vulnerable than its national security."
Evidence that the boycott idea is gaining momentum includes not only the official EU guidelines against benefiting the settlements but also the recent decision of the British charity Oxfam to drop actress Scarlett Johansson as a spokesperson. She was asked to step down after she appeared in a Super Bowl ad for Sodastream, an Israeli company with a factory in the West Bank. Boycott organizers are also calling, with some success, for Europeans to stop buying produce from Israeli farms in the West Bank.
Singling Israel out for such a boycott does re-confirm the double standard in global outrage that has long applied to our Mideast ally.
Still, Secretary Kerry can't be fairly faulted for stating the obvious to our Israeli friends about the folly of the "status quo" - and about their pressing need to more vigorously pursue peace with the Palestinians.