‘It’s a cancer’: Pompeo says US will brand BDS ‘anti-Semitic,’ crack down on it

Speaking in Jerusalem, US secretary of state vows Washington to immediately take steps against anti-Israel boycott activists; Netanyahu hails move as ‘simply wonderful’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo deliver statements to the press at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 19, 2020 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo deliver statements to the press at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 19, 2020 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The United States government will formally designate the anti-Israel boycott movement “anti-Semitic” and immediately start cracking down on groups affiliated with it, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday during a visit to Israel, calling BDS a “cancer.”

“Today I want 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,” he said, standing next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint statement to the press.

“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.”

Illustrative: A protester holds a sign reading ‘Boycott Israel, Free Palestine’ during a Quds-day demonstration in Berlin, on June 9, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Tobias SCHWARZ)

Netanyahu welcomed the resolution at the time, hoping it would lead to “concrete steps” to halt funding for pro-boycott groups.

During his press appearance Thursday with Pompeo, the prime minister lauded the outgoing administration of Donald Trump for various steps in support of Israel, including moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, brokering normalization agreements with three Arab countries, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and disputing the assumption that West Bank settlements are illegal.

“Thanks to President Trump, the United States proposed the first truly realistic plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” he went on, referring to the so-called Deal of the Century released earlier this year.

Netanyahu reserved particular praise for the administration’s aggressive stance on Iran.

“Thanks to your tremendous efforts to carry out President Trump’s maximum pressure campaign, Iran’s feet have been held to the fire and we have seen a reduction in the amount of support that they are giving to their various proxies in the region,” he said.

He mentioned a speech Pompeo made in May 2018 in which he listed 12 demands Iran has to fulfill if it wants the US to lift sanctions, hinting that it should serve as guiding principle for any future engagement with the Islamic Republic.

“Your twelve points set the standard for what Iran needs to do if it wants to be treated like a normal country,” Netanyahu said. “Those who claim that your twelve points are either unnecessary or unrealistic simply want to give Iran a free pass… The tyrants of Tehran deserve no free passes.”

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)

Pompeo also announced that later on Thursday he was planning to visit the Golan Heights, which would be the first time a senior US official visited the strategic plateau claimed by Syria since the administration recognized Israel’s sovereignty over it in March 2019.

The US top diplomat is also expected to visit the Psagot Winery, which is located in the West Bank, marking the first time an American secretary of state would visit a business in an Israeli settlement. While the visit has not been officially confirmed by US officials and is likely considered private in nature, it has been widely condemned, by officials in Ramallah and pro-Palestinian activists, as an endorsement of Israeli violations of international law.

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