WASHINGTON — The Obama administration pushed back strongly Monday at a torrent of Israeli criticism over Secretary of State John Kerry's latest bid to secure a cease-fire with Hamas, accusing some in Israel of launching a "misinformation campaign" against the top American diplomat.
"It's simply not the way partners and allies treat each other," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Her comments were echoed by the White House, where National Security Adviser Susan Rice said U.S. officials were dismayed by mischaracterizations of Kerry's efforts. Israeli media reports have cast Kerry as seeking a cease-fire that is more favorable to Hamas and being dismissive of Israeli concerns.
Kerry himself, in a speech to the Center for American Progress, noted the criticism but did not give ground.
"Make no mistake, when the people of Israel are rushing to bomb shelters, when innocent Israeli and Palestinian teenagers are abducted and murdered, when hundreds of innocent civilians have lost their lives, I will and we will make no apologies for our engagement," he said.
The coordinated pushback in Washington came amid growing U.S. frustration with Israel as Palestinian civilian casualties mount amid a sustained Israeli air and ground war in the Gaza Strip. In recent days, U.S. officials have been using subtle yet noticeably tougher language in pressing Israel to accept an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire.
The United States has made little progress in achieving that objective.
In trying to implement the cease-fire over the weekend, "U.S. Secretary of State of State John Kerry ruined everything," wrote columnist Ari Shavit in Monday's Haaretz, Israel's leading liberal newspaper. "Very senior officials in Jerusalem described the proposal that Kerry put on the table as a 'strategic terrorist attack.' "
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer sought to distance his government from that view.
While the Obama administration maintains that it supports Israel's right to defend itself, officials are increasingly worried about the civilian casualties in Gaza. The White House has also taken a shaper tone in its characterization of President Barack Obama's calls with Netanyahu, noting in the readout of a conversation on Sunday that the U.S. has a "serious and growing concern" about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.