Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that the U.S. will regard the Palestinian-led boycott movement as “anti-Semitic” and cut off government support for any organizations taking part in it, a step that could deny funding to Palestinian and international human rights groups.
Pompeo announced the initiative during a visit to Israel in which he is expected to make the first-ever appearance by a secretary of state in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank. Pompeo said he would also visit the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 war.
“We will regard the global, anti-Israel BDS campaign as antisemitic,” Pompeo said, referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
“We will immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw U.S. government support for such groups,” he said, adding that all nations should “recognize the BDS movement for the cancer that it is.”
BDS organizers cast their movement as a non-violent way of protesting Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, modeled on the campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa. The movement has had some limited success over the years but no impact on the Israeli economy.
Israel views BDS as an assault on its very existence, and has seized on statements by some supporters to accuse it of anti-Semitism, allegations denied by the movement’s organizers. The official BDS website explicitly rejects antisemitism.
Pompeo did not provide additional details, and it was unclear what organizations would be at risk of losing funding. Israelis have accused international groups like Human Rights Watch of supporting BDS, allegations they deny.
Virtually all Palestinian non-governmental organizations support the boycott movement, but under President Donald Trump the U.S. has already cut off nearly all forms of aid to the Palestinians, part of its unprecedented support for Israel in the decades-old conflict. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to restore U.S. aid to the Palestinians and to work on reviving the peace process.
Pompeo spoke at a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said the Israel-U.S. alliance had reached “unprecedented heights” under the Trump administration.
Netanyahu thanked the administration for moving its embassy to contested Jerusalem, dropping its position that Israeli settlements are contrary to international law, recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and taking a hard line against Iran.
Israel recaptured east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want both territories to be part of their future state and view the settlements as a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace — a position endorsed by most of the international community.
“For a long time, the State Department took the wrong view of settlements,” Pompeo said, but it now recognizes that “settlements can be done in a way that (is) lawful, appropriate and proper.”