The Trump administration’s new envoy to combat anti-Semitism said Thursday that participating in boycotts of Israeli companies and products made by Jews living in the West Bank is anti-Semitic because the campaigns implicitly deny the legitimacy of Israel itself.
“An individual has a right to buy or not buy what they please,” Elan Carr told reporters. “However, if there is an organized movement to economically strangle the state of Israel, that is anti-Semitic.”
Carr, who was sworn in Thursday morning as special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, said the administration is unequivocally opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
“The idea that somehow there can be movements organized to deny Israel its legitimacy, and not to allow Israel to participate in economic commerce in the world, sure that is [anti-Semitic]. Hatred of the Jewish state is hatred of the Jewish people.”
The BDS campaign aims to change Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians by encouraging boycotts, stock divestiture and sanctions against Israeli and international companies that operate on land that Palestinians consider theirs to change its policy toward the Palestinians. It encompasses the West Bank, but also East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Critics of the movement say the policy changes it advocates would effectively end Israel’s identity as a Jewish homeland.
Carr said it was “discriminatory” to not purchase products made by Jewish communities and buy products made by Arabs living nearby.
“Two communities that are living side by side, and one refuses to buy from Jews and one wants to buy from non-Jews, I think that’s very clear what that is,” he said.
Carr’s appointment comes after a tight election in Israel won by the Likud party, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the final days of the campaign, Netanyahu said Israel would annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in testimony before congressional committees this week, declined to say whether the administration opposes the annexation or still supports a resolution based on a separate state for Palestinians. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino also declined to directly address the policies.
Carr is an anti-gang prosecutor from Los Angeles whose mother emigrated to Israel from Iraq. He grew up in New York speaking Hebrew and Arabic, and served in Iraq in an Army anti-terrorism unit.
He ran a losing race for Congress against Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) in 2014, and also lost a run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. He was supported by Sheldon Adelson, a Republican donor he has described as a personal friend.
The anti-Semitism envoy position had been vacant for two years, and members of Congress had been pressing the administration to fill it.
Carr told reporters Thursday that he aims to reduce the insecurity among Jewish communities worldwide at a time when anti-Semitism is growing. Another focus will be looking at school textbooks that teach hatred of Jews to children in some countries. But he said his rallying cry would be that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic.
“We are going to focus relentlessly on eradicating this false distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism,” he said.
He characterized the BDS movement as “dedicated to strangling the Jewish state out of existence.”
“This isn’t a ragtag group,” he added. “There are international organizations; there are websites; it’s organized. And the stated goals are clear. And the stated goals on the website of the BDS movement is to deny the state of Israel economic prosperity and to deny it legitimacy. That is anti-Semitism.”
On its website, the BDS movement describes itself as an “inclusive, anti-racist human rights movement that is opposed on principle to all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”
The website also says that Israel maintains “a regime of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation over the Palestinian people.”
Carr acknowledged that anti-Semitism is growing in the United States as well and vowed to speak out on it “wherever we see it.”