Pompeo at AIPAC says ‘Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism’
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Pompeo at AIPAC says ‘Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism’

Top US diplomat castigates Democratic members of Congress who support boycotting Israel

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the growing rise in anti-Semitism around the world Monday, telling a massive crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s that anti-Zionism is commensurate to Jew-hatred.

“Let me go on the record,” he said, “anti-Zionism is anti-semitism.”

Addressing AIPAC’s 2019 Policy Conference, America’s top diplomat celebrated US President Donald Trump recognizing the Golan Heights as part of sovereign Israel alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House hours earlier. Pompeo visited the Golan last week during a tour of the Middle East.

“Just a short while ago President Trump, alongside Prime Minister Netanyahu, signed a decree, a decree affirming Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan,” Pompeo told the crowd of 18,000. “What a truly great two days for two great nations.”

Trump’s decision is widely seen as part of an effort timed to bolster the Israeli premier’s re-election bid back home. Netanyahu, who had been slated to speak before the pro-Israel lobby on Tuesday, cut his trip early to return to Jerusalem, as Israeli responded to a rocket attack from Gaza on central Israel that struck a home and injured seven people.

US President Donald Trump holds up a signed proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

While Pompeo was more diplomatic in tone compared to US Vice President Mike Pence, who on Monday told AIPAC that Democrats had been “co-opted by people who promote rank anti-Semitic rhetoric,” he nevertheless criticized the contingency of the Democratic Party increasingly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

As he was castigating anti-Semitism, Pompeo took aim at two new members of Congress — Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, though he did not mention them by name — who support BDS.

“This bigotry is taking on an insidious new form in the guise of anti-Zionism,” Pompeo said. “It’s invested on college campuses in the form of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. It’s discussed in our media. It’s supported by certain members of Congress, I suspect none of whom are here tonight.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” he added, “criticizing Israel’s policies is an acceptable thing to do in a democracy. But criticizing the very right to exist of Israel is not acceptable. Anti-Zionism denies the very legitimacy of the Israeli state and of the Jewish people.”

Recent controversies surrounding Omar — who suggested that AIPAC paid politicians to be pro-Israel, for which she’s apologized, and has lambasted the pro-Israel advocacy more generally — have been a major theme at this year’s AIPAC conference, with a wide range of speakers denouncing her.

Despite AIPAC’s persistent emphasis on the need for bipartisan support for Israel, Trump officials have used the occasion to assert that Democrats are no longer strong supporters of the Jewish state.

“Support for Israel … has been a long, bipartisan tradition in the Congress, spanning generations,” Pence said earlier. “But how things have changed.”

Britain’s opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses delegates on the final day of the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, England, on September 26, 2018. (AFP Photo/Oli Scarff)

During his speech, Pompeo also attacked the British Labour Party’s “tolerance of anti-Semitism in its ranks” as a “national disgrace,” in unusually strong criticism of the close ally’s opposition.

Labour made strong gains in Britain’s 2017 elections under leader Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran leftist and supporter of pro-Palestinian causes.

Corbyn says he is not anti-Semitic and has vowed to root out bigotry against Jews. But nine members of the party have quit, with many citing alleged anti-Jewish racism. One of them, Jewish lawmaker Luciana Berger, said she received death threats amid a slew of abuse and concluded that the party had become institutionally anti-Semitic.

AFP contributed to this report.

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