Human Rights Watch: Step undermines fight on anti-Semitism

BDS outraged by ‘fraudulent,’ ‘McCarthyite’ US declaration it is anti-Semitic

After Pompeo announces crackdown, Palestinian-led boycott movement says ‘fanatic Trump-Netanyahu alliance’ is revising the definition of anti-Jewish bias

Illustrative: An Egyptian buys a pin with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) logo in Cairo, Egypt, in 2015. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Illustrative: An Egyptian buys a pin with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) logo in Cairo, Egypt, in 2015. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

The anti-Israel boycott movement and some international rights activists on Thursday condemned the US declaration that it will formally designate BDS anti-Semitic and immediately start cracking down on groups affiliated with it.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement as he stood alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Jerusalem, calling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement a “cancer” and promising to withdraw US government funding from groups that engage in BDS conduct.

Pompeo later tweeted that he was directing Elan Carr, the US envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, “to identify organizations engaged in politically motivated actions intended to penalize or limit commercial relations with Israel.”

He also said the US would recognize exports from West Bank settlements as “made in Israel.” He made that announcement while making a visit to the Psagot Winery, which is located in the West Bank, marking the first time an American secretary of state visited an Israeli settlement.

“It’s quite ironic that the Trump Administration, prompted by Israel’s apartheid regime, continues to enable and normalize white supremacy and antisemitism in the US and worldwide while simultaneously smearing BDS, a leading Palestinian-led human rights movement and its millions of supporters worldwide as ‘antisemitic,’” the Palestinian BDS National Committee, the movement’s coordinating body, said in a statement.

“BDS has consistently and categorically rejected all forms of racism, including anti-Jewish racism, as a matter of principle,” it said.

“The fanatic Trump-Netanyahu alliance is intentionally conflating opposition to Israel’s regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid… with anti-Jewish racism… in order to suppress advocacy of Palestinian rights under international law,” the statement said.

“This fraudulent revision of the definition of antisemitism has been condemned by dozens of Jewish groups worldwide and by hundreds of leading Jewish and Israeli scholars, including world authorities on antisemitism and the Holocaust.

“With our many partners, we shall resist these McCarthyite attempts to intimidate and bully Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders into accepting Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism as fate,” it said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meeting the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, November 19, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Human Rights Watch argued that Washington’s step was “undermining” the fight against anti-Semitism.

“Instead of combatting systemic racism and far-right extremism in the United States, the Trump administration is undermining the common fight against the scourge of anti-Semitism by equating it with peaceful advocacy of boycotts,” said Eric Goldstein, the group’s acting Middle East and North Africa director.

“Americans have a long history of supporting peaceful boycotts to promote social justice and human rights, like the civil rights boycotts in Mississippi or those against apartheid in South Africa. The Trump administration has no business trying to tar groups because they back boycotts,” he added.

Pompeo said earlier, during a statement to the press alongside Netanyahu, that he wanted to make “one announcement with respect to a decision by the State Department that we will regard the global anti-Israel BDS campaign as anti-Semitic.”

“I know this may sound simple to you, Mr. Prime Minister, it seems like a statement of fact, but I want you to know that we will immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw US government support for such groups. The time is right,” Pompeo declared.

At that point, Netanyahu interrupted the US top diplomat’s comments, saying, “It doesn’t sound simple, it sounds simply wonderful.”

“Look,” Pompeo went on, “we want to stand with all other nations that recognize the BDS movement for the cancer that it is. And we’re committed to combating it. Our record speaks for itself. During the Trump administration, America stands with Israel like never before.”

BDS, which stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, is not a registered organization but rather a term for a worldwide movement of pro-Palestinian activists who embrace economic sanctions against Israel as the best nonviolent means to fight what they consider unjust policies of the government in Jerusalem.

Illustrative: Palestinian and left-wing Jewish groups stage a rally walking from Times Square to the United Nations Building in New York, September 15, 2011, calling to end all US aid to Israel and support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. (AP Photo/David Karp)

Leading European politicians have rejected the BDS movement on ideological grounds but have stopped short of banning it due to free speech laws.

In May 2019, the German Bundestag passed with a large majority a resolution denouncing BDS, describing its methods as anti-Semitic and reminiscent of Nazi-era calls to boycott Jews.

The motion called on the German government not to support events organized by BDS or groups that actively pursue its aims, and vowed that parliament wouldn’t finance any projects that call for a boycott of Israel or actively support the movement.

The German motion stated that “the pattern of argument and methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic.”

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