US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday became the first top US diplomat to visit a West Bank Jewish settlement and the disputed Golan Heights, cementing US President Donald Trump’s strongly pro-Israel legacy.
On a farewell tour of the Middle East, Pompeo also said that exports from the settlements could now be labeled as “Made in Israel” and called a boycott movement against the Jewish state a “cancer.”
Pompeo held no meetings with Palestinians, who protested his actions and dismissed them as the latest sign of the outgoing Trump administration’s strong bias against them.
Accompanied by Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi, Pompeo traveled aboard a Blackhawk helicopter to the Golan Heights, a strategic territory the Jewish state seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.
“You can’t stand here and stare out at what’s across the border and deny the central thing that President Donald Trump recognized... This is a part of Israel,” Pompeo said.
Last year, Trump’s administration controversially recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan, and Pompeo on Thursday condemned what he described as calls from “the salons in Europe and in the elite institutions in America” for Israel to return the Golan to Syria.
“Imagine with [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad in control of this place, the risk of the harm to the West and to Israel,” Pompeo said.
Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid Muallem called Pompeo’s visit a “provocative step,” warning that “such criminal visits encourage [Israel] to continue its dangerous hostile approach.”
Pompeo also said that Washington would designate as “anti-Semitic” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which calls for a wide-ranging embargo against Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.
“We will immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw US government support for such groups,” he said after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We want to stand with all other nations that recognize the BDS movement for the cancer that it is,” he added.
Israel sees BDS as a strategic threat and has long accused it of anti-Semitism, and a law passed in 2017 allows it to ban foreigners with links to the movement.
Activists strongly deny the charge, comparing it to the economic isolation that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa.
Condemning Pompeo’s announcement, Human Rights Watch said that “the Trump administration has no business trying to tar groups because they back boycotts,” which it said had been used to advance social justice throughout US history.
Amnesty International called BDS a “form of nonviolent advocacy and of free expression that must be protected.”
Pompeo — who has so far backed Trump in refusing to concede defeat to US president-elect Joe Biden — is on what was likely his final major Europe and Middle East tour in the post.
Netanyahu, who has congratulated Biden, thanked Pompeo for his “unwavering support” of Israel, first as CIA director and later secretary of state.
On Thursday, Pompeo also became the first US top diplomat to visit a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, where the Psagot winery has named one of its red blends after him.
Winemaker Yaakov Berg, creator of the “Pompeo” wine, said that the secretary of state’s support would ensure he is remembered by Jews “100 years from now.”
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