Biden State Department Did Not Consult Anti-Semitism Office on Israel Boycott, Cruz Says

Move casts doubt on the department's insistence that the policy was noncontroversial

Deborah Lipstadt (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
July 7, 2023

The Biden State Department did not consult with its anti-Semitism watchdog before ending taxpayer funding for Israeli research projects, a move that casts doubt on the department's insistence that the policy was noncontroversial.

The Biden administration sent shockwaves through the pro-Israel advocacy world late last month when it decided to boycott all scientific cooperation projects with Jewish Israelis living in so-called settlements throughout East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Golan Heights. But "the State Department’s own Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism was excluded from deliberations over this guidance and did not clear it," according to a draft investigatory letter authored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) making the rounds on Capitol Hill.

The disclosure could undermine the State Department’s claim that its ban on taxpayer funding for these Israeli groups is "simply reflective of the longstanding U.S. position" on disputed areas of the Jewish state. The department’s anti-Semitism envoy, Holocaust historian Debra Lipstadt, is a vocal opponent of Israel boycotts, and routinely calls out foreign nations for their efforts to unfairly target the Jewish state. If the State Department cut Lipstadt out of discussions around the policy, it could signal the decision was much more internally controversial than officials are willing to publicly admit.

After news about the Israel funding prohibition leaked last month, Republican leaders—including several Republican presidential candidates—quickly accused the Biden administration of advancing the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Cruz’s draft letter on the matter warns the Biden administration that its endorsement of this policy risks "a full rupture" in Congress’s "ability to engage the Department of State on these issues."

"Candidly, it is untenable for State Department officials to continue testifying to Congress that they support the U.S.-Israel relationship and then—once out of view—to push policies designed to undermine that relationship," Cruz wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "Without a reversal in these trends Congressional oversight and the expeditious vetting of nominees would become intractable."

A State Department spokesman declined to comment on Cruz’s claims, saying it does not discuss internal deliberations, but told the Free Beacon the "United States firmly rejects the BDS movement."

The spokesman reiterated the department’s claim that the policy shift "reflects longstanding policy differentiating between the State of Israel."

Cruz also disclosed in the letter that the Israel funding boycott was hidden from Congress and the American public, only becoming known after it was leaked to the press.

"It is no wonder that the Biden administration sought to shield this new guidance from Congressional and public scrutiny," the letter states. "The guidance does something America has never done before: unilaterally impose territorial restrictions on U.S. scientific research aid to Israel."

In plain terms, Cruz added, the Biden administration is endorsing an "antisemitic boycott of Israel."

The ban will impact at least three U.S.-Israeli scientific collaborations, according to Axios, which first reported the policy shift. The updated guidance reverses a Trump-era policy that allowed collaborative projects with Jews living in disputed territories.

Israel also objected to the move, with foreign minister Eli Cohen saying, "I object to the decision and think it is wrong."

The State Department spokesman pushed back against criticism, saying its diplomats "work tirelessly to oppose efforts that try to delegitimize Israel and to support Israel’s further integration in the region and beyond."

The Biden administration has repeatedly found itself in hot water for trying to undermine Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. In addition to hiring several officials who have promoted the BDS movement, the administration was caught providing funding to left-wing advocacy groups seeking to unseat Netanyahu, as the Free Beacon first reported in March.