Pompeo expected to announce process for U.S. to label groups anti-Semitic

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has decided to establish a new process by which the United States can declare groups, including NGOs, to be anti-Semitic.

For now, however, Pompeo won’t be naming any names.

The decision is a compromise. Three people familiar with the issue confirmed it, but noted that Pompeo could still change his mind and hold off on an announcement.

In recent weeks, as first reported by POLITICO, Pompeo had been weighing whether to label Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam as anti-Semitic because of their alleged actions toward the Israeli government. Had Pompeo named the groups, the plan was to say the U.S. would not support the organizations and to urge other governments also not to support such groups, financially or otherwise.

That proposal, however, drew fierce internal pushback from some State Department staffers, as well as external condemnation from lawmakers and other critics.

Opponents of the idea disputed claims that the groups are anti-Semitic, and they argued that designating them as such would raise freedom of speech issues and the possibility of litigation, among other concerns.

The three groups receive either no or relatively little funding from the U.S. government or any government, depending on which of their branches is being considered. Still, supporters of the organizations said that by targeting them, Pompeo would send a major signal to dictators and other leaders overseas that it’s acceptable to crack down on these and similar organizations.

Asked for a statement on Wednesday, a State Department spokesperson said, “We don’t comment on purportedly leaked communications.”

It was not immediately clear exactly when Pompeo would make the announcement, though it is expected relatively soon, according to the three people familiar with the issue, one of whom is a human rights activist briefed on the topic and another a former State Department official in touch with current department staffers.

Given that President Donald Trump lost the Nov. 3 election to Joe Biden, it’s also uncertain that any process Pompeo establishes to designate groups as anti-Semitic would be retained by the next administration.

Details of what would go into that process also were not immediately available. However, it is expected to rely in part on the working definition of the term anti-Semitism as established by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, a group of nations that includes the United States.

Some interpretations of the IHRA definition argue that groups that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement should be declared anti-Semitic.

Supporters of designating Oxfam, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as anti-Semitic allege that they back the BDS movement. But Oxfam representatives say their organization does not support the movement, while Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say they do not take a position on it.

BDS backers’ goals include stopping the spread of Israeli settlements on land claimed by Palestinians for a future state and otherwise protecting Palestinian rights. Its detractors say BDS’ foundations are anti-Semitic.

Some also argue that, while the three rights organizations on paper may not support the BDS movement, they do so in practice, by issuing reports critical of certain Israeli actions.

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