Biden Slams Pompeo for 'Politicizing' Israel by Taping Convention Speech in Jerusalem

The Democratic candidate's campaign calls the recording of speech for Republican National Convention during an official Mideast tour 'an abuse of taxpayer dollars'

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bumping elbows in Jerusalem on Monday.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bumping elbows in Jerusalem on Monday.Credit: AFP

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign criticized U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo on Tuesday for recording a speech for the Republican National Convention during a diplomatic trip to Israel, calling it "an abuse of taxpayer dollars."

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The Biden campaign argued in a statement Pompeo was seeking to turn Israel into a “political wedge issue” ahead of the November general election, adding that "the historic bipartisan support in Washington for Israel and her security should never be subordinated to politicization for personal gain."

Pompeo arrived in Israel on Monday for a trip that is officially focused on diplomatic efforts to establish ties between Israel and Arab states. He met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, before taking off to his next stop, Sudan.

But while in Israel, he recorded a video message for the Republican convention from the roof of the King David hotel, overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City. 

The speech by Pompeo, slated to be aired on Tuesday, is expected to highlight Trump’s policy decisions regarding Israel, such as moving the American embassy to Jerusalem and refusing to accept the view that settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law.

Joe Biden accepts the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination during a speech from the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., August 20, 2020.Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The main target audience for the speech is evangelical Christians, who are a key voting demographic for Trump. Approximately 80 percent of them supported him in the 2016 election, and he will need a similar level of support among this group in order to have a chance for reelection. Pompeo himself is an evangelical Christian and often mentions his faith in political speeches.

Pompeo’s predecessors under President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, did not speak at the Democratic conventions of 2012 and 2016. Pompeo’s decision to send a pre-recorded speech, and to do so from Jerusalem of all places, “undermines the critical work being done by the State Department,” according to the Biden campaign’s statement, accusing the secretary of "politicization of diplomacy."

"Making this inherently partisan address from Jerusalem is also the latest instance of this administration seeking to use Israel as a political wedge issue," the statement added. 

The Biden campaign further attacked Pompeo by arguing, "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 was also criticized by the Jewish Democratic Council of America. The organization’s executive director, Halie Soifer, wrote on Twitter that Pompeo’s appearance at the Republican convention from Jerusalem "underscores Trump’s ongoing efforts to politicize and use Israel." She added that "U.S. policy is being used as a political ploy in Trump’s reelection, and he’s using Israel itself as a stage for the Trump show."

In the 2012 election, the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, visited Jerusalem four months before the election in a bid to shore up his support among the Jewish community and use the disagreements between Netanyahu and President Obama in order to drive Jewish voters away from the Democratic party. Obama, however, still won approximately 70 percent of the Jewish vote in that election. Four years earlier, Obama himself, then the Democratic nominee for president, also visited Israel ahead of that November’s election.

The criticism against Pompeo, however, is focused on the fact that he himself is not on the ballot in this year’s election, and he is serving in an official government role that is supposed to separate him from the presidential campaign.

The Hatch Act

Pompeo sent a cable to all U.S. diplomatic missions last month warning American diplomats that under federal law they should not take overt sides in the presidential campaign. Apparently he’ll be ignoring his own warning.

Pompeo’s message to State Department employees reminding them of restrictions on political activity under the Hatch Act was not unusual. Similar, if not identical, cables have been sent by successive secretaries of state every presidential election year. None of his predecessors, however, has disregarded those instructions so obviously.

“The department works to advance the national interest abroad on behalf of all Americans in a non-partisan fashion,” Pompeo said in the July 24 cable.

The cable was released late Monday by Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a fierce Pompeo critic who is engaged in multiple battles with the secretary over what he believes to be inappropriate and possibly illegal partisan behavior. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the cable independently and verified its authenticity.

“Once again, the rules go out the window for Secretary Pompeo when they get in the way of serving his political interests and Donald Trump,” Engel said in a statement. “Mr. Pompeo should show real respect for American law, diplomacy, and diplomats, and should follow his own guidance, cancel the speech, and watch the RNC from his hotel room after the workday is done.”

The State Department has defended Pompeo’s decision to appear at the convention. Officials have noted that Hatch Act rules for Senate-confirmed political appointees like the secretary are slightly less restrictive than those for rank-and-file diplomats.

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