Secretary of State John Kerry apologized Monday night for using the phrase "apartheid state" during a closed-door meeting to describe what Israel could become if both sides fail to agree on a two-state solution in the Middle East.
Kerry made the remark during a private meeting of the Trilateral Commission, an organization created to bring leaders together to discuss global issues.
The comment, which was first reported by the Daily Beast Sunday night, created an uproar on Capitol Hill across the political spectrum with some Republicans calling for him to apologize and resign.
The statement began with a defense of Kerry's record as a supporter of Israel.
“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,” he said.
"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. "Anyone who knows anything about me knows that without a shred of doubt."
Still, he said he has “been around long enough” to know the power of words to “create a misimpression, even when unintentional.”
“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,” he said.
Earlier Monday House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who is Jewish, said the comment was “extremely disappointing” and called on Kerry to apologize.
“The use of the word apartheid has routinely been dismissed as both offensive and inaccurate, and Secretary Kerry's use of it makes peace even harder to achieve,” he said.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said the remark was offensive and unproductive.
“I am disappointed with Secretary Kerry’s reported remarks...[he] knows as well as anyone that negotiating lasting peace in this region of the world is difficult but it’s not productive to express his frustration in this way,” he said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, quickly followed Cantor's call for an apology with a statement on the Senate floor urging Kerry to resign.
“Mr. President, it is my belief that Secretary Kerry has thus proven himself unsuitable for his position and that before any further harm is done to our alliance with Israel, he should offer President Obama his resignation,” Cruz said. “And the president should accept it.”
“Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous,” she said in the tweet.
Kerry has made the Middle East peace talks a major priority during his first year at the State Department despite criticism that the two sides were diametrically opposed on many key points and unlikely to reconcile them.
Last week he was struggling to regroup and save the talks after the Israeli government suspended the negotiations indefinitely in retaliation for a unity pact between the Palestinian leadership and the Islamist Hamas movement, which refused to recognize Israel's right to exist.
This story was first published on April 28 at 10:31 p.m.