Outgoing US administration labels BDS “anti-Semitic”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahrain’s foreign minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani at a press conference in Jerusalem on 18 November.

Menahem Kahana UPI

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday formally labeled the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) for Palestinian rights as “anti-Semitic,” and vowed that the outgoing US administration will combat it.

This is the latest violation of free speech by the US government in its effort to crack down on support for Palestinian rights.

“As we have made clear, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism,” Pompeo said, equating criticism of Israel and its racist political ideology Zionism, on the one hand, with bigotry against Jews, on the other.

The US is “committed to countering the global BDS campaign as a manifestation of anti-Semitism,” Pompeo asserted.

He also referred to BDS as a “cancer,” in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Pompeo said the State Department’s anti-Semitism envoy would “identify organizations that engage in, or otherwise support” BDS to enable the State Department to halt any government funding.

Pompeo’s targeting of groups “using peaceful means, such as boycotts, to end human rights violations against Palestinians as anti-Semitic violates freedom of expression and is a gift to those who seek to silence, harass, intimidate and oppress those standing up for human rights around the world,” Amnesty International said on Thursday.

Palestinian civil society groups launched the BDS campaign in 2005 to pressure Israel to respect Palestinian rights and abide by international law. It is modeled on the campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa.

The BDS movement opposes all forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism, and stands for equality as a matter of principle.

The Palestinian Boycott National Committee, the steering group for the global BDS campaign, denounced the move by the “fanatic Trump-Netanyahu alliance” which “continues to enable and normalize white supremacy and anti-Semitism in the US and worldwide while simultaneously smearing BDS.”

Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir said that the Trump administration is “undermining the fight against anti-Semitism by equating it with peaceful boycotts.”

Selling settler goods

Pompeo also declared that goods produced in settlements on occupied Palestinian land must be labeled “Made in Israel” – concealing that they were manufactured in colonies built in occupied territory in violation of international law.

This will apply to all products from Area C – the 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control pursuant to the Oslo accords of the 1990s. It is the area where most Israeli settlements are located.

This comes as four Republican senators penned a letter to President Donald Trump this week calling for him to change US customs policy to allow goods produced in settlements to be labeled “Made in Israel.”

Pompeo added that goods made in occupied West Bank areas nominally under Palestinian Authority control will be labeled as made in the “West Bank.”

Pompeo also said the US “will no longer accept” joint labeling of products from the occupied West Bank and Gaza, as the two territories “are politically and administratively separate and should be treated accordingly.”

These measures can be interpreted as further US recognition of Israel’s de facto annexation of Palestinian land, while denying Palestinians any recognition that the West Bank and Gaza Strip form a single political entity.

The BNC called the State Department’s intentional conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism a “revisionist and fraudulent” attempt to silence not only supporters of BDS, but even human rights groups – like Human Rights Watch – that do not support BDS but oppose the trade in settlement goods.

Colonial wine

In a tweet on Thursday, Pompeo also attacked the EU’s poorly enforced policy of requiring goods from Israeli settlements to be labeled as such.

Pompeo apparently deleted the tweet a short time later, and reposted it again without a picture of what looked like the Palestinian village of Mukhmas that was originally included.

This came as Pompeo and US ambassador David Friedman visited Psagot Winery, a settlement firm that operates on occupied and stolen Palestinian land.

“Enjoyed lunch at the scenic Psagot Winery today,” Pompeo wrote.

“Unfortunately, Psagot and other businesses have been targeted by pernicious EU labeling efforts that facilitate the boycott of Israeli companies.”

US officials have previously visited occupied territories under the Trump administration.

Pompeo’s stop at Psagot Winery was however clearly meant to give high-profile support to Israel’s illegal settlements.

The wine produced by the Psagot Winery is made from grapes sourced from several West Bank settlements.

The winery is built on land owned by Palestinians from the nearby town al-Bireh, where residents protested Pompeo’s visit.

Alongside other European settler-colonies, Israel has long sought to sell wines produced on stolen Palestinian and Syrian land in the global wine market, as Columbia University professor Joseph Massad recently wrote.

Wine produced in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights will soon go on sale in the United Arab Emirates as well.

During his visit, Pompeo also cheered the construction of the so-called City of David, a theme park built in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, whose Palestinian residents Israel is forcibly expelling.

Pompeo also visited the baptismal site near the Jordan River on the occupied West Bank’s boundary with Jordan on Thursday.

Pompeo was also scheduled to stop in the Golan Heights. Trump recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the area in March 2019 – in defiance of international law.

Cementing anti-Iran alliance

Pompeo’s visit coincided with that of Bahrain’s foreign minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, who arrived in Tel Aviv on Wednesday for his first official visit since his country agreed to normalize ties with Israel in September.

Al Zayani joined Pompeo and Netanyahu for a joint press conference in Jerusalem.

Al Zayani announced that Israel and Bahrain will soon exchange embassies. From next month, he added, Israelis and Bahrainis will be able to acquire electronic visas and would soon be able to travel on regular flights between the two countries.

Normalization deals between Arab states and Israel come as part of US efforts to build an anti-Iran alliance between Israel and Gulf states under American oversight.

Pompeo boasted that the recent deals between Israel and Arab states had made Iran “ever more isolated,” with its influence “waning.”

This comes as the Trump administration escalates economic sanctions against Iran in an effort to make Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement irreversible after Joe Biden replaces him as president.

Trump even considered bombing Iran’s primary nuclear facility in the final weeks of his presidency, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Advisers including Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence reportedly talked him out of it.

The 2015 deal reached by the Obama administration and other states saw Iran voluntarily restrict its nuclear energy program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Israel has relentlessly lobbied for intensified economic warfare against Iran, which causes suffering to ordinary Iranians and devastates the country’s economy during a pandemic.

On Wednesday, Pompeo trumpeted the administration’s “Maximum Pressure” campaign against Iran.

“Today, Iran’s economy faces a currency crisis, mounting public debt and rising inflation,” Pompeo stated. He warned of “painful consequences” for states and corporations that defy US sanctions.

Congressional letter

Ahead of Pompeo’s arrival in Israel, Congressman Mark Pocan spearheaded a letter calling on the secretary of state to condemn Israel’s recent demolitions of Palestinian homes.

Co-signed by 40 other members of Congress, the letter refers to the demolition of the occupied West Bank community of Khirbet Humsa on 3 November.

The destruction left more than 70 Palestinians homeless, including 41 children – the largest such demolition in years.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, one of the co-signers, has called the demolition “a grave crime” and asserted that the United States “should not be bankrolling ethnic cleansing.”

The letter inquires whether American-supplied equipment was used in the demolition – which Omar previously warned would be illegal.

It also urges that in the final two months of Pompeo’s tenure, “human rights violations and violations of international law continue to be forcefully rejected by the American government.”

It’s very clear, however, that Pompeo is determined to use his remaining time to encourage and reward as many of Israel’s violations as possible.

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If commodities from the Occupied Palestinian Territories are to be labeled as coming from Israel, the BDS campaign has been given a new argument for demanding a full boycott of the apartheid state. Since it's going to be impossible to distinguish between settler products and those from behind the 1948 line, the fence sitters have just had their perch torn down.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.