Kerry: Hey, I don't think Israel is an apartheid state ... yet

After an avalanche of criticism across the political spectrum, Secretary of State John Kerry backed away from his use of “apartheid” in his criticism of Israel — but declined to apologize for it. Instead, Kerry blamed “partisan political purposes” in the criticism, even though members of his own party joined in the criticism, including his former Senate colleague Barbara Boxer (D-CA):

“I will not allow my commitment to Israel to be questioned by anyone, particularly for partisan, political purposes, so I want to be crystal clear about what I believe and what I don’t believe,” Kerry said after U.S. lawmakers and pro-Israel groups criticized him, with some demanding his resignation or at least an apology.

“First, Israel is a vibrant democracy and I do not believe, nor have I ever stated, publicly or privately, that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one,” he said.

“Second, I have been around long enough to also know the power of words to create a misimpression, even when unintentional, and if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two-state solution,” Kerry said.

CBS notes that Kerry came in for plenty of Republican criticism. Eric Cantor, for instance, demanded an apology:

However, criticism wasn’t limited to that side of the aisle:

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California was also critical of Kerry’s comment, saying on Twitter, “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous.”

DCCC chair Steve Israel (D-NY) rejected the idea that this was a political attack on Kerry, too:

A few news outlets called this an “apology,” but it’s pretty weak sauce, even if it includes the “if I could rewind the tape” phrase of regret. This sounds like a cross between the standard political non-apology apologies of “I’m sorry if you were offended” and “I’m sorry you’re too stupid to recognize my brilliance.” Given the utter debacle of American foreign policy under Kerry’s tenure and that of his predecessor Hillary Clinton, Kerry’s implicit invocation of his own brilliance is even more arrogant than it normally would be.

Remember …. this is Barack Obama’s top diplomat. Smart power, indeed.