The term ‘slash and burn’ seems like the most accurate description of the purpose and impact of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Israel last week.
Not satisfied with Donald Trump’s all-out four-year assault on the norms of engaging in Israel-Palestine, Pompeo’s last hurrah sought to burn all that remains of the ever weakening Green Line, the border between Israel and the West Bank.
His pièce de resistance was a visit to a West Bank settlement and the Golan Heights, and his policy announcement that all goods made in the settlements must now be labelled as ‘Made in Israel’ if they are to enter the US market.
Some people define what is “good for the Jews” as being whatever is good for the current Israeli administration’s far right-wing brand of Zionism. For them, this was a very good day for the Jews.
But most know that the Trump White House – and all it has encouraged – have not been in the least bit “good for the Jews”. In fact, this presidency and its senior team have borne all the hallmarks of the opposite.
We have seen a massive uptick in antisemitic attacks in the US, and a president who defends as “very fine people” the assortment of white supremacists who marched through Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us”. It is no surprise that Jews voted overwhelmingly to kick him out of power this month.
So, what was Pompeo hoping to achieve? Ultimately, it was an attempt to shut down criticism – not of Israel, but its policy of occupation. Whilst visiting the occupied Palestinian territories, his State Department labelled boycott of “territory controlled by Israel” – a catch-all phrase to include boycotts against settlements – as discriminatory, and therefore antisemitic. Under this logic, those criticising Pompeo’s visit to a settlement are discriminating against Israel, and so are antisemitic.
True, there are unsavoury antisemitic elements within the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, as there can be within the pro-Palestinian support base on the hard-left, but that is not what this is about, and Pompeo’s attempt to stifle debate must be understood for what it is.
This is about labelling as “antisemitic” anyone who questions the policies of the Israeli government, calls themself an anti-Zionist (as painful and difficult as that might be for many in the Jewish community), and/or supports a boycott.
Among those most likely to be in this camp are Palestinians themselves, and by doing as he has, Pompeo has made it much harder for an incoming Biden administration to re-establish any old norms of engagement with the Palestinian side, which can only be a blow to peace.
The great irony in all this is that Pompeo and BDS share the goal of eradicating the Green Line. It is just that BDS-ers seek one (non-Jewish) state, while Pompeo et al seek one (non-democratic) state in which the Jewish majority rules in perpetuity over another people whilst denying them their basic rights.
Pompeo’s last dance has nothing to do with supporting Israel or fighting antisemitism. Anyone with half an eye on the conflict knows that there is nothing beneficial about entrenching occupation and the settlement enterprise (which must end for the conflict to be resolved) or casting one side in such a bad light that even engaging with them becomes morally reprehensible.
The leadership of the settler movement may think all their chickens came home to roost at once last week, but for Pompeo they are simply a useful tool in his box, as he shores up support for a 2024 presidential run. The best interests he has at heart are not Israel’s, but his own.
It is therefore incumbent upon all of us who care about Israel and its future, and the interests of the Jewish people, to reject Pompeo’s crude yet very dangerous attempt to eradicate the Green Line and shut down debate. We need to call out his actions for the narcissistic opportunism that they are.