It’s remarkable how many reporters are now impatient with the U.S. obeisance to Israel. From yesterday’s State Department briefing (In the video, go to minute 41), questions about Obama’s State of the Union nod to Israel as a Jewish state to annoyance at the fact that the State Department regards boycotting SodaStream, which is made in the occupied territories, as illegitimate. Note the references to South African boycott and the necessity of boycott when governments have failed to act.
QUESTION: In the President’s State of the Union, he devoted a couple sentences to the Middle East peace process. And in one of them he referred to Israel as a Jewish state. Was that an endorsement of the prime minister’s condition in the peace talks?
MS. [Marie] HARF: The President has spoken frequently about Israel remaining a Jewish and democratic state. He said it a number of times. So I wouldn’t try and read too much into that, except he’s making very clear what our position is. I wouldn’t read anything into it in terms of any specific policies or discussions as part of the ongoing peace negotiations. He was just making clear what our position is.
QUESTION: Okay. Because the actual text of the speech was him saying Palestine will be recognized as a state and it’ll achieve dignity, and Israel will receive security —
MS. HARF: He has said that multiple times, including during his visit to Israel, including at his AIPAC speech a couple of years ago. He – it’s language he’s used a lot and is very clear about what our position is. I wouldn’t try and relate it specifically to specifics that are being discussed during the peace process right now.
Matt Lee (Associated Press): So related to this and following on the settlement issue that was – we talked with Jen about yesterday, I’m wondering if today, after that discussion yesterday, you are able to offer any more – a bit more of a clear explanation as to why you believe that boycotts of products produced in settlements are de-legitimizing of Israel when you yourself believe that settlements are – Israeli settlements are illegitimate.
MS. HARF: Well, as we’ve said, boycotts directed at Israel are unhelpful, and we oppose them. Again, just because we’ve made clear what our policy is on settlements, that doesn’t necessarily follow that there’s one course of action from a policy perspective that we think fits what we’re concerned about. This is exactly why we think that these issues need to be discussed at the negotiating table, and that we need to get a final status agreement. There’s just not a one size fits all that if we believe A, B should necessarily follow.
Lee: Well, okay, fair enough. But I guess what I don’t understand is why you believe that a boycott of something – of products made in settlements would be de-legitimizing of Israel when, in fact, they’re being made in settlements which are contested areas that you believe the occupation of which is illegitimate.
MS. HARF: Okay, right. I’m sorry… I don’t want to get tied up in the words here.
Lee: I’m having a problem with the –with the logic.
MS. HARF: Well, that we think the boycotts are unhelpful of Israel, and we oppose them because we believe that in order to resolve these issues, we need to discuss them directly between the two parties at the negotiating table, and that that kind of action isn’t helpful; it’s a part of that process. That’s part of the reason that we oppose them.
Lee: Well, I guess – it’s not directed at Israel; it’s directed at a private company, operating a settlement. And if you say you oppose boycotts of Israel because you don’t think they’re helpful, then that raises a huge question about
MS. HARF: But it’s directed at a company because of Israeli policies — or Israeli Government policies.
Lee: But people are free to buy or not buy whatever product they want to, right? I mean when you say if – when you say that boycotts of Israel are not helpful, it just raises a giant flag when you look at Jo’s question, when the entire world, with the exception of two – one other country thinks that your boycott/embargo of Cuba is wrong and unhelpful, why it is that you have this position that that’s okay, but then something to display – another country trying to display its displeasure with Israelis – Israeli policy, that that’s not helpful. I don’t – if you – what I don’t understand is, if you believe that the settlements are – that settlement activity is illegitimate yourself – and by you, I mean the United States —
MS. HARF: Yeah.
Lee: how is it that you can – how is it that you oppose other people who share that view taking some kind of action to demonstrate their unhappiness or to protest that that —
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, each situation is different, obviously, when we’re talking about how to respond policy-wise when we disagree with policies in one country. I think part of the nature is the across-the-board boycott of Israel on some of these issues, certainly. Again, I’m happy to check with our folks, Matt. I think a trade embargo in Cuba is obviously very, very, very different than boycotts of Israel that we do not believe are the way to resolve these issues. We don’t think it’s helpful to the process. We believe that these issues need to be discussed between the two parties, and that’s how we’re going to get some resolution on them; not through boycotts of Israel. I’m happy to see if there’s more analysis. I’m sorry. I just —
Lee : Okay. So –but – no, no, no, I understand. But I just –
Lee: Hold on. Hold on, Lesley. One more thing. How do you suggest that other countries or people, other groups, should demonstrate their unhappiness with another country’s – in this case, Israel’s – policy? If not through a peaceful action like a boycott, what should they do? I mean, this is not just something —
MS. HARF: I think we speak out very clearly when we don’t agree with Israel’s policies, and what – that we don’t think the settlements are legitimate. We say that very clearly and make that very clear, and work with the parties to get resolution on these issues through final status negotiations. That’s how we think we should help resolve these issues that are really underneath the boycott issue.
Lee: Okay. But by your own admission, your speaking out against this particular policy hasn’t had any effect.
MS. HARF: I don’t think I’ve ever said that.
Lee: Well, let’s put it this way.
MS. HARF: I think that’s your analysis.
Lee: You speak out about them, and the Israelis keep doing it. Is that not correct?
MS. HARF: Well, I think you’re making a broad generalization. You have no idea what the impact always is of our private diplomatic discussions and what would’ve been done differently if we hadn’t had those discussions.
And I am actually am on a time schedule, so we need to —
Lee: So you’re saying that you think that the Israelis would be doing more of this if you hadn’t been doing those —
MS. HARF: I’m saying I wouldn’t make any assumptions, Matt, about the kind of leverage we have.
QUESTION [I believe this is Rosalind Jordan, Al Jazeera]: Well, let’s go back 25, 30 years.
MS. HARF: I have about three more minutes.
QUESTION: Sure – 25, 30 years, there was, as part of the anti-apartheid movement, a concerted effort on people who opposed the regime in South Africa to not spend money with companies that did business with that government, notably multinational oil companies. How is this situation with SodaStream any different?
MS. HARF: Every situation is different, guys, every single situation in every country. We have different policy, diplomatic, and economic tools that we think are important in getting us to the policy goal we want in every country. I’m just not going to compare them.
QUESTION: And the U.S. doesn’t consider Israel an apartheid state. I just want to clarify that.
MS. HARF: Yes, correct.
QUESTION: So, just going off this, is it the policy – do you think it’s fair to conflate the settlement issue writ large with the – this issue that has caused a lot of riff-raff, which is the private company of SodaStream employing 250 people in a settlement and selling its products?
MS. HARF: I’m sorry, I don’t understand the gist of your question.
QUESTION: I’m sorry.
MS. HARF: No, it’s okay. We’re all getting tangled up in words here.
MS. HARF: I mean, what we said is we don’t support boycotts, we oppose them, period, of Israel. So I think that’s pretty clear.
Lee: Not under any circumstance?
MS. HARF: Period.
Lee: Under any circumstance?
MS. HARF: Matt, yes, we oppose them. I’m sure you will find some circumstance in 20 years where we would not, but right now we do.
QUESTION: No, I – okay.
MS. HARF: This is going to be my last question.