(CNSNews.com) – Nine months after the U.N.’s human rights office released a blacklist of private companies doing business in Israeli “settlements” in disputed territory claimed by the Palestinians, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday that the State Department will now start identifying groups supporting the boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) movement, with a view to denying them U.S. federal funding.
“We will regard the global anti-Israel BDS campaign as anti-Semitic,” Pompeo said alongside Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. “We will immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct, and withdraw U.S. government support for such groups. The time is right.”
“We want to stand with all other nations that recognize the BDS movement for the cancer that it is,” Pompeo added. “And we’re committed to combating it.”
Pompeo also announced new guidelines requiring products sold in the U.S. that originate from parts of the disputed territories where Israel exercises control, to be labeled “Made in Israel.” Those coming from areas under Palestinian control should be labeled as coming from either the “West Bank” or “Gaza.” Although not stringently enforced, guidelines dating back to the Clinton administration have required “Made in West Bank” labels for goods produced in Israeli communities in those areas.
The two linked decisions are a response to international efforts to delegitimize Israeli communities and enterprises located in disputed territory, notably the U.N. “database” of companies – including American companies – doing business with Israelis in those areas, as well as European Union labeling requirements. Pompeo at the time of the database release said he was “outraged.” Despite official denials, the U.N. and E.U. policies are widely viewed as helping to facilitate the global BDS campaign.
Palestinian condemnation came swiftly.
“The U.S. administration’s step to label products imported from Israeli colonial settlements won’t legitimize the settlements, which will be gone sooner or later,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
The BDS movement vowed to “resist these McCarthyite attempts to intimidate and bully Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders into accepting Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism as fate.”
“The fanatic Trump-Netanyahu alliance is intentionally conflating opposition to Israel’s regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid against Palestinians and calls for nonviolent pressure to end this regime on the one hand with anti-Jewish racism on the other, in order to suppress advocacy of Palestinian rights under international law.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) welcomed the labeling policy change.
“Anti-Israel demagogues like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions gang have long weaponized country-of-origin rules in their efforts to delegitimize Israel and discriminate against its goods,” he said.
Earlier this week Cotton joined Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in a letter urging Trump to make the policy change.
Critics of BDS argue that policies like the European labeling one are discriminatory in that Israel alone is targeted, while equivalent requirements are not enforced in other situations where countries have transferred their citizens to territories in dispute, such as Turkey in northern Cyprus, or Russia in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Progressive Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) have publicly endorsed the BDS movement although their party’s 2020 platform does not support it.
“We oppose any effort to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, while protecting the Constitutional right of our citizens to free speech,” the platform states.
In July last year, Tlaib, Omar and fellow “Squad” member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) all voted against an anti-BDS measure that passed in the House with a large bipartisan majority.
Golan Heights decision ‘simply a recognition of the reality’
Pompeo made the announcement on BDS shortly before becoming the first American secretary of state ever to visit an Israeli community in the disputed territories, known to Israelis by the historical and biblical name Judea and Samaria, and to the international community as the “occupied Palestinian territory” of the West Bank.
He flew by helicopter to an Israeli winery at Psagot, north of Jerusalem, accompanied by his wife, Susan, and U.S. Ambassador David Friedman.
“Unfortunately, Psagot and other businesses have been targeted by pernicious E.U. labeling efforts that facilitate the boycott of Israeli companies,” he tweeted afterwards. “The U.S. stands with Israel and will not tolerate any form of delegitimization.”
Pompeo also visited the Golan Heights, which Israel wrested from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, and is considered by the international community to be occupied Syrian land. President Trump in a March 2019 proclamation formally recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.
A strategic ridge about half the size of Rhode Island, the Golan has now been under Israeli control for more than twice as long as it was under Syria’s – 53 years, compared to the 21 years it fell within the borders of Syria prior to 1967. (Before Syria’s formal independence in 1946, it fell consecutively under French and British mandates, and prior to World War I under the Ottoman Empire.)
From a vantage point overlooking Syria Pompeo, a former U.S. Army tank platoon leader, heard a briefing from retired Gen. Avigdor Kahalani, who led a legendary tank battle against a vastly superior Syrian force on the Golan during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. (An Arab coalition led by Syria and Egypt launched a surprise attack on Israel on the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, in an unsuccessful bid to regain the territory they lost six years earlier.)
Speaking alongside Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, a former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Pompeo recalled the years of international pressure to relinquish the Golan to Syria, adding, “Imagine, with [Bashar] Assad in control of this place, the risk, the harm to the West and to Israel and to the people of Israel.”
Ashkenazi thanked Trump for the decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, a move which Pompeo earlier in the day described as “simply a recognition of the reality.”