Biden campaign slams Pompeo for ‘politicizing’ Israel with Jerusalem speech

Democratic presidential candidate accuses Trump’s top diplomat of trying to make Jewish state a ‘political wedge issue’ after address to Republican convention

In this image from video, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks from Jerusalem during the second night of the Republican National Convention on August 25, 2020. (Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via AP)
In this image from video, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks from Jerusalem during the second night of the Republican National Convention on August 25, 2020. (Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via AP)

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign on Wednesday castigated US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for addressing the GOP convention from Jerusalem, calling the move a violation of ethics and an attempt to politicize Israel for US President Donald Trump’s gain.

On Tuesday night, America’s top diplomat broke decades of precedence by speaking to the Republican Party’s mostly virtual political confab, ignoring his own advice to State Department officials to avoid partisan politics.

Pompeo spoke to the convention while on an official trip to the Middle East pushing for a broader Arab-Israeli rapprochement after Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced an agreement to fully normalize relations on August 13.

“Secretary Pompeo’s decision to address the Republican Convention from Jerusalem isn’t just an abuse of taxpayer dollars; it undermines the critical work being done by the State Department,” Biden’s Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement.

“Every day America’s diplomats abroad proudly represent our country — not a political party — but Mike Pompeo’s repeated and blatant use of his office for overtly political purposes only serves to undercut their work, and it further weakens the critical alliances and global relationships that have already been so badly damaged by this administration’s recklessness.”

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

In previous election cycles, secretaries of state of both parties have avoided the conventions.

Former US president Barack Obama’s secretary of state John Kerry, for instance, sat out the 2016 Democratic convention.

When Obama was officially nominated for a second term in 2012, Hillary Clinton was half a world away, traveling to the Cook Islands, Indonesia, China, East Timor, Brunei and far eastern Russia.

Likewise, when Republicans nominated John McCain in 2008, then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was on a trip to Portugal, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Former US president George W. Bush’s first secretary of state, Colin Powell, also did not speak to the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Pompeo’s decision was also criticized by Democrats and former State Department officials.

Some have alleged that the speech violated the Hatch Act, a law that prohibits executive branch employees from partisan activity. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has launched an investigation into the matter.

In the speech, Pompeo did not attack Biden, Trump’s opponent, by name or even mention the Democratic Party. He limited his remarks to a defense of Trump, while also emphasizing the administration’s foreign policy moves, such as withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

(L-R, rear) US senior presidential advisor Jared Kushner, US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien clap for US President Donald Trump after he announced an agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalize diplomatic ties, at the White House, August 13, 2020. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

“The president exited the US from the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran and squeezed the Ayatollahs, Hezbollah, and Hamas,” Pompeo said. “The president too moved the US embassy to this very city of God, Jerusalem, the rightful capital of the Jewish homeland, and just two weeks ago, the president brokered a 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’s speaking from Jerusalem is likely to appeal to evangelical Christians. Last week, Trump told his supporters that moving the embassy was done for evangelical Christians.

“And we moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem,” Trump said at a rally held at an airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, apparently referring to his decision to move the facility from Tel Aviv. “That’s for the evangelicals.”

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel defended Pompeo’s appearance during a CBS interview Sunday, saying it was “appropriate” and that the party would be paying for all the convention costs.

Bedingfield, Biden’s spokesperson, charged that Pompeo’s speech was part of an attempt on the Trump campaign to make Israel a Republican cause.

“Making this inherently partisan address from Jerusalem is also the latest instance of this administration seeking to use Israel as a political wedge issue, when the historic bipartisan support in Washington for Israel and her security should never be subordinated to politicization for personal gain,” she said.

“Even by this administration’s abysmally low standards, Secretary Pompeo’s decision to serve as an errand boy for the President’s reelection on a taxpayer-funded diplomatic mission, and his decision to use one of our closest partners as a political prop in the process, is absolutely disgraceful.”

Pompeo’s speech came on the second night of the four-day GOP convention. The next session will begin Wednesday night, with Trump himself slated to speak Thursday evening.

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