Top Dem ‘concerned’ by Kerry’s remarks on Israel

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he was “concerned” with Secretary of State John Kerry's statements on the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The congressman said he supported Kerry for defending Israel’s right to survive and protect its citizens, but took issue with suggestions that the country was not doing enough to prevent civilian deaths in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing Friday.

“I do get concerned with statements from Secretary Kerry, as I was concerned with statements in the Bush administration, about the need to — for Israel to show sensitivity or demonstrate greater attempts, with respects to civilians in Gaza, when Israel in fact goes further than most any other country I know to do that,” Israel said.

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The lawmaker, who is Jewish, said he will be traveling to Israel to see first hand the effects of the three-week fight between Israel and Hamas.

He said the blame for the current conflict lies with Hamas, which has continued to launch rockets at Israel for years. He also suggested that many civilians have died in Gaza because Hamas hides weapons in mosques and schools.

"One of the concerns I do have is when anybody in any administration talks about the need for balance. This is a not an issue of balance; this is an issue of survival,” Israel said.

He added that the Obama administration, including Kerry, has been “very, very strong” on military and intelligence issues. 

The administration has tried to strike a fine line between supporting Israel, one of the U.S.’s closest allies, and urging Israel to do more to prevent civilian deaths.

On Thursday, though, the administration stepped up its criticism, with White House press secretary Josh Earnest saying there was "not a lot of doubt" that Israeli artillery had hit a United Nations-run school in Gaza. 

Earnest went on to call it "totally unacceptable and totally indefensible" and urged that more be done to protect civilians during the conflict.

The shelling of the school on Wednesday killed about 20 people.

The State Department on Wednesday had declined to place blame on either side, instead urging an immediate investigation. A U.N. spokesman said an initial review indicated Israel was responsible. 

Kerry was in the Middle East last week — in Cairo, Egypt, Jerusalem and the West Bank — participating in cease-fire negotiations, which were unsuccessful. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday promised the ground operation inside the Gaza Strip would not end until the Israeli military destroys Hamas-built tunnels that lead into Israel. 

This story was updated at 1:18 p.m.

Amie Parnes contributed