It was an unprecedented address, started in an unprecedented way.
“Hi, I’m Mike Pompeo,” the United States Secretary of State said. “I’m speaking to you from beautiful Jerusalem, looking out over the Old City.”
Pompeo was addressing the 2020 Republican National Convention from Jerusalem via satellite from Israel on Tuesday night.
The fact that he chose to do so sparked anger from those who claim that the speech will turn Israel into a political football.
There was no precedent, critics said, for a Secretary of State making a partisan political speech from foreign capital.
But Pompeo went ahead with the speech despite the uproar.
He credited President Donald Trump with curtailing the “predatory nature” of the Chinese Communist Party, standing up to Russia and North Korea, and making NATO “stronger than ever” —all claims fact-checkers and critics instantly found issue with.
But his strongest remarks were directed at Trump’s Middle East actions.
Pompeo credited Trump with defeating ISIS and assassinating Iranian commander Qassam Suleimani, who, Pompeo said, had the blood of “hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Christians” on his hands. He praised Trump for ending the “disastrous” nuclear deal with Iran.
“The President too moved the US Embassy to this very city of God Jerusalem, the rightful capital of the Jewish homeland,” Pompeo said. “And just two weeks ago the President brokered a historic peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. This is a deal our grandchildren will read about in their history books.”
Pompeo closed his brief address by saying, “May God richly bless you.”
Kate Bedingfield, the deputy campaign manager for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, said in a statement that Pompeo’s speech is “the latest instance of this administration seeking to use Israel as a political wedge issue, when the historic bipartisan support in Washington for Israel and her security should never be subordinated to politicization for personal gain.”
Others have argued that it is improper for the nation’s top diplomat to involve himself in domestic politics at all.
“Pompeo speaking from Jerusalem breaks multiple traditions and norms,” Wendy Sherman, a former senior diplomat in the Obama administration, told the McClatchy news agency. “Secretaries of state, as far as I can find, have never appeared at a political convention. They, like the secretary of defense, have been above politics because they stand for America in the world.”
Moreover, it is illegal for federal employees to engage in political activities while on duty. The Jewish Democratic Council of America has argued that in addition to politicizing the U.S.-Israel relationship, the speech could serve as a violation of that law, known as the Hatch Act.
The State Department has said that there is no Hatch Act issue because Pompeo will be speaking in a personal capacity and that no taxpayer funds were being used to support his speech.
Pompeo visited Sudan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in addition to his Israel swing.
In a campaign rally in Wisconsin last week, President Trump said that the embassy move was “for the Evangelicals.”
Polling shows that most American Jews oppose Trump, while most Evangelical Christians support him. Still, Politico reported Tuesday that religious themes would be a key component of the RNC in order to halt Biden’s increased levels of support among Evangelicals.
Trump does have some support from pockets of the Jewish community for whom his pro-Israel policy decisions and promises to protect religious rights override other concerns.
Several Jews serve in the Trump White House, including family members Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, one of the top Haredi Orthodox religious figures in America, endorsed Trump last month, saying it would be “hakaras hatov,” Hebrew for recognition of a good deed.
Correction, August 26: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article stated that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ended his address to the Republican National Convention by saying, “May God ritually bless you.” In fact, he said, “May God richly bless you.”
Why is Pompeo speaking at the RNC from Israel?