On a trip to Israel/Palestine in November 2020, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the first top US diplomat to have visited an Israeli settlement. He made stops at two, one in the Golan Heights and one in the West Bank, after which he made an announcement regarding the labeling of settlement goods as “Made in Israel” and characterizing support for the boycott, divestment, and/or sanctions movement as anti-Semitic.
Sec. Pompeo’s visit is a tangible affirmation of the Trump Administration’s recognition in 2019 of the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights and the 2019 State Department statement that Israeli settlements do not violate international law, and sends a strong message to Israeli and global leaders that the US will not stand in the way of Israel’s expanding settlement enterprise. The Israeli settlements in both the Golan Heights and West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law, and to permit items produced in the occupied territories to be labeled as “Made in Israel” fails to acknowledge this fact. Previously, US Secretaries of State did not visit settlements when they traveled in the region as prior administrations have recognized the illegality of settlements. This year, Israel is on track to approve the most settlement homes and have demolished Palestinian homes at the highest rate since 2016. All this has been done during a global pandemic.
In 2015, the United Church of Christ passed a resolution at General Synod calling members of the UCC to “boycott goods identified as being produced in or using the facilities of illegal settlements located in the occupied Palestinian territories.” The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has affirmed its commitment to responsible investing (2017). Both denominations, with ecumenical partners, have affirmed the right to use economic measures as nonviolent tools for justice in the Israeli-Palestinian context, pointing to the churches’ history of such engagement in a variety of instances of injustice. We have also spoken out clearly in opposition to settlement construction and home demolitions, and are deeply concerned at the accelerated rate at which Israel is carrying those out.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ are founding members of Churches for Middle East Peace, and as such, Global Ministries shares the following statement which is consistent with our policies and positions.
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) Condemns Secretary Pompeo's Labeling Announcements
On November 19, Secretary Pompeo declared that goods made in Area C of the occupied West Bank will now be required to carry a "Made in Israel" label for export to the United States. For similar purposes, he also announced that the State Department would label as "anti-Semitic" any organizations that engage in boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) activities, and promised to "immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct, and withdraw U.S. government support for such groups."
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) condemns both attempts at false labeling, and calls on the Trump Administration to renounce such actions. If the Trump Administration does not renounce these detrimental actions, CMEP calls on the incoming Administration to reverse them.
Changing the labels on goods produced by settlers in the West Bank not only misleads the American public but also puts yet another Trump Administration stamp of approval on acts of the Israeli occupation, including annexation, that clearly violates international law by favoring the non-security interests of the occupier over the occupied. In fact, the E.U. and numerous American allies have guidelines that require the labeling of Israeli settlement products so that consumers can be informed that the products have been made in occupied territories, distinctly clarifying that they are not made in Israel.
Secretary Pompeo went on to link the goods labeling change to his pronouncement earlier that day that the Trump Administration would label U.S. organizations engaging in boycott, divestment, or sanctions as anti-Semitic and de-fund them. This is odious on multiple levels.
Boycott, divestment, and sanctioning are all free speech, protected for Americans under the U.S. Constitution. While CMEP neither supports nor opposes such actions, some of its member Christian denominations already have taken actions to boycott or divest or sanction over the continuing Israeli occupation. Other CMEP member communions choose to engage in limited boycotts of only settlement products made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank as a way of calling attention to the injustices of the occupation. It is absurd to label whole Christian denominations (or any other Americans) as "anti-Semitic" for their decision to engage in a practice of boycotts, protected by the constitution and a matter of religious freedom. In addition, consider the negative effects and injustice of barring U.S. government funding from programs associated with those churches and organizations.
Equally troubling is the attempt to make political gain by defining opposition to the policies of the State of Israel as being "anti-Semitic." Antisemitism is real, and CMEP opposes it. Expanding that labeling to any opposition to Israel's occupation policies distracts both the public and the U.S. government from taking action against very real anti-Semitic threats to Jewish people in the U.S. and elsewhere.
CMEP's Executive Director, the Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, says, "These actions by Secretary of State Pompeo are further evidence that this Administration is not an honest broker when it comes to the pursuit of Middle East peace. The disproportionate support of the U.S. government elevating Israeli interests over Palestinian realities is not only detrimental to both the people of Palestine and Israel; but also will have long term damaging effects on the relationship of the U.S. to other countries in the Middle East and the world."
Those who seek a real and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians must continue to advocate for an end to the occupation, settlements, violence, and the ongoing violations of human rights. The recent announcements by the State Department only serve to embolden the ongoing annexation of Palestinian land in the West Bank and ultimately contribute toward greater risk and potential threats to the safety of Israelis and Palestinians - and Jews, Christians, and Muslims living in the region.
Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is a coalition of 29 national church communions and organizations, including Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Evangelical traditions that works to encourage US policies that actively promote a comprehensive resolution to conflicts in the Middle East with a focus on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. CMEP works to mobilize US Christians to embrace a holistic perspective and to be advocates of equality, human rights, security, and justice for Israelis, Palestinians, and all people of the Middle East.