The US secretary of state was accused of supporting "anti-Semitic" interests yesterday after warning that Israel faced an economic boycott if it failed to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Ministers in the cabinet of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, accused Mr Kerry of effectively endorsing "anti-Semitic" efforts to impose sanctions on the country. "The risks are very high for Israel," Mr Kerry told the conference. "People are talking about boycotts. 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?"
The remarks were made against a backdrop of new EU regulations barring deals with Israeli businesses based in the illegal West Bank settlements, but they provoked claims that he was threatening Israel in peace talks with the Palestinians.
Yuval Steinitz, Israel's intelligence and strategic affairs minister, said: "The things . . . Kerry said are hurtful, they are unfair and they are intolerable.
"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 head 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."
Adi Mintz, an official in the Settlers' Council, accused Mr Kerry of "an anti-Semitic initiative". Mr Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting that efforts to impose a boycott were "immoral and unjust" and doomed to fail.
The US state department denied Mr Kerry, who is trying to draw up a framework agreement between Israel and Palestine, was backing an 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 spokesman. "[ Mr Kerry] expected opposition and difficult moments in the process, but he also expects all parties to accurately portray his record and statements."
Mr Kerry had met Mr Zarif 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 last November, which gave Iran limited sanctions relief in exchange for suspending some of its nuclear activities. The forthcoming talks aim to achieve a long-term agreement. (©Daily Telegraph, London)