Pompeo courts Trump’s culture warriors in Jerusalem speech

Man speaks to camera with evening cityscape behind him

With occupied East Jerusalem as his backdrop, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a pitch to President Trump’s Evangelical base. (C-SPAN)

In likely violation of US law and State Department regulations, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech on Tuesday laced with anti-Chinese racism to the Republican National Convention (RNC).

He spoke from outside the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem while on a taxpayer-funded, official diplomatic visit.

Texas Representative Joaquin Castro, chair of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, launched an investigation into Pompeo’s speech.

Calling it “highly unusual, and likely unprecedented, for a sitting secretary of state to speak at a partisan convention,” Castro demanded Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun to turn over detailed written responses to questions and internal documents concerning Pompeo’s speech to ascertain whether legislative action is needed to hold Pompeo accountable.

At issue are seemingly clear provisions in US law and State Department procedures and legal memos that prohibit US government employees in general, and State Department officials in particular, from engaging in partisan activities, especially while representing the United States abroad.

While Castro’s investigation of Pompeo does not directly address the policy implications of his speech to the RNC, it is noteworthy that he is one of three candidates seeking to replace New York Representative Eliot Engel as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee next year.

Engel was solidly defeated by political newcomer Jamaal Bowman in the Democratic primary this year.

Engel – one of the Democratic Party’s most stalwart advocates for Israel – lost despite the infusion of millions of dollars of pro-Israel money in support of his campaign to a candidate who did not shy away from speaking out in favor of Palestinian rights.

If selected as the next committee chair, Castro has vowed to center Palestinian voices in committee hearings dealing with Israeli-Palestinian policy issues.

“Over the years, there have been too many voices excluded; I think too often Palestinian voices have been excluded,” Castro told The Washington Post last month,

“If the United States is going to be an arbiter of peace, it has to be willing to hear from the different sides, and in my estimation we’ve not always done that,” he added.

Castro’s investigation of Pompeo’s speech throws an interesting Israel-related wrinkle into his candidacy to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“City of God”

As importantly, Pompeo’s speech also demonstrates the degree to which the Republican Party is seeking to champion Israel and politicize what traditionally had been a bipartisan consensus of nearly lock-step support for it.

The section of Pompeo’s speech devoted to the Trump administration’s policies on Israel was surprisingly brief.

“The president exited the US from the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran and squeezed the Ayatollah, Hizballah and Hamas,” Pompeo bragged.

He also touted Trump’s move of the US embassy “to this very city of God, Jerusalem, the rightful capital of the Jewish homeland.”

And he mentioned how the US brokered what he termed the “historic peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.”

“This is a deal that our grandchildren will read about in their history books,” Pompeo asserted.

Leaving aside Pompeo’s specious and grandiose claim of brokering “a historic peace deal” between Israel and the UAE – which was merely a normalization of diplomatic relations between two countries never at war – his speech is most noteworthy for the transparent and cynical attempt to shore up Christian Evangelical support for Trump.

“We moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem. That’s for the Evangelicals,” Trump admitted at a campaign rally in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, last week.

“You know, it’s amazing with that: The Evangelicals are more excited about that than Jewish people. That’s right, it’s incredible.”

Trump’s anti-Semitism

Trump’s incredulity that Evangelicals would be “more excited” than Jewish people about his moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem continues his pattern of anti-Semitic dog-whistling.

Last August, Trump opined: “’I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat – I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

Trump’s claim that Jewish people should either be loyal to him for supporting Israel or be loyal to Israel first and foremost is a classic anti-Semitic trope.

Surely the poll-obsessed president did not miss the fact that only 16 percent of Jewish Americans supported the embassy move, whereas a majority of Evangelicals did.

Clearly, Pompeo’s invocation of Jerusalem as the “city of God” and the “rightful capital of the Jewish homeland” is designed to consolidate Evangelical votes for Trump in advance of the election.

It is of a piece with the Republican Party’s strategy of playing to its shrinking, overwhelmingly white nationalist base of grievance-obsessed culture warriors.




The final point is important: the Republicans have ceased to be a political party and have become an insurrectionary force, hence the teenager with a rifle killing folk in defence of property and the increasing number of far-right weapons-bearers taking to the streets and staring to look para-military. This is where the Republicans are because of their shrinking base. Their impressive array of election victories is misleading: they have lost broad appeal and must rely on groups which see themselves as beleaguered and America as under threat. This is quicksand politics: the desperate flailing of people being pulled down into a clinging mud where they have chosen to wander. That's why Trump is now threatening democracy itself. What kind of a remark is "If I lose, the poll is rigged"? That's the line of a dictator: only I can win. I alone am legitimate. What will the Supreme Court judges rule when Trump challenges the results of an election in which he is certain to be outvoted? We may be about to see democracy subverted. What then can the people do but take to the streets. And then the gun-toting reactionaries come into their own. This is not sudden. It has been a long time in preparation. Since at least Reagan the argument has been advanced that the market matters, voting is secondary. Wealth matter more than votes. The US's billionaires have far greater influence than its voters. The logic has been drip fed: democracy puts liberals, blacks, lefties, un-American folk in power. It's time to let the right people rule. The people with money. And, of course, the last people who should have power are poor Arabs. Rich Arabs can be negotiated with. But power for poor Arabs ? That's why Pompeo was in Israel.

Josh Ruebner

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Josh Ruebner is adjunct professor at Georgetown University, managing director of American Muslims for Palestine and author of Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? and Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace. The views expressed here are solely those of the writer and are not on behalf of any organization.