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.
“We will regard the global, anti-Israel BDS campaign as anti-Semitic,” 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 organizers.
In a statement, the BDS movement reiterated its rejection of “all forms of racism, including anti-Jewish racism,” and accused the U.S. and Israel of trying to silence advocacy for Palestinian rights.
“The BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality stands with all those struggling for a more dignified, just and beautiful world,” it said. “With our many partners, we shall resist these McCarthyite attempts to intimidate and bully Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders into accepting Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism as fate.”
Pompeo did not provide additional details about the initiative, and it was unclear what organizations would be at risk of losing funding. Israelis have accused international groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International of supporting BDS.
Human Rights Watch, whose researcher was deported from Israel last year for past statements allegedly in support of BDS, urges companies to avoid doing business in Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron, saying it makes them complicit in human rights abuses. Amnesty does not take a position on the boycott movement.
“The Trump administration is undermining the common fight against the scourge of anti-Semitism by equating it with peaceful advocacy of boycotts,” Eric Goldstein, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
Israel passed a 2017 law that bars entry to foreigners who have called for economic boycotts of Israel or Yehudah and Shomron. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution opposing the boycott movement last year, and several U.S. states have enacted anti-BDS laws.
Virtually all Palestinian 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. Joe Biden has pledged to restore the aid as part of efforts to revive the peace process.
Pompeo spoke at a press conference with Prime Minister Binyamin 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 Yerushalayim, abandoning the U.S. position that communities in Yehudah and Shomron are contrary to international law, recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and taking a hard line against Iran.
“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.”
Neither Netanyahu nor Pompeo said anything about the U.S. election.