Trump Plan to Label pro-BDS Groups Antisemitic Is Off the Table

Sources say the plan never materialized due to concerns surrounding free speech and the State Department's inability to complete the list and get it approved before the new administration stepped in

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Mike Pompeo (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive wearing protective masks to make a joint statement to the press after meeting in Jerusalem, on August 24, 2020.
Mike Pompeo (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive wearing protective masks to make a joint statement to the press after meeting in Jerusalem, on August 24, 2020.Credit: DEBBIE HILL / AFP

Among the farewell gifts the outgoing Trump administration bestowed upon Israel was an initiative that would have defined any organization that supports the BDS movement as antisemitic. Besides tarnishing their names, the move would also have denied them public funding.

On his last trip to the region, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that he had instructed his special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism to draw up a list of organizations that fit the definition.

The initiative never materialized, well-placed sources told Haaretz, as the State Department failed to complete the list and get it approved by the time the new administration stepped in – among other reasons, because of internal opposition within the State Department to the initiative, largely stemming from concerns about its repercussions on free speech.

According to a report published in Politico last October, Pompeo had planned to use the initiative primarily to target three international human rights organizations, known for their fierce opposition to the Israeli occupation: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam. (Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said they have no position on BDS, while Oxfam has said it opposes the movement.)

Elan Carr, the U.S. special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism, stepped down from his position just before the new administration took over and before he was able to complete the assignment from Pompeo.

In response to a query from Haaretz regarding whether the Biden administration planned to move forward with the initiative, a State Department spokeswoman sufficed by pointing to remarks delivered by Antony Blinken, the designated secretary of state, during his confirmation hearings in the Senate last week.

When asked if he supported BDS, Blinken said that both he and the president “resolutely opposed” the movement, among other reasons because it singled out Israel “unfairly and inappropriately.” At the same, he noted that “of course we fully respect and will always respect the First Amendment rights of Americans to say what they believe and think.”

During his last visit to the region, Pompeo also announced a change in U.S. policy involving labeling of products made in West Bank settlements. Under the new policy, products made in the settlements and exported to the U.S. could hitherto be labeled “Made in Israel.” Since the 1990s, U.S. policy had required that products made in the settlements not be labeled “Made in Israel” and that is still the case in the European Union.

Trump and Netanyahu before the signing of the UAE, Bahrain normalization deals, September 15, 2021. Credit: Saul Loeb / AFP

At the time of Pompeo’s announcement, it was not clear there would be enough time before the new administration took over to complete the required paperwork for the new rule to take effect. But last month, as first reported in Haaretz, it was published in the Federal Registry and took immediate effect.

A former State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, remarked incredulously at the time that Pompeo had succeeded in pushing through the policy change in what he described as “record time.”

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