(March 15, 2018 / JNS) Major American Jewish organizations are pleased by the nomination of CIA director Mike Pompeo to succeed Rex Tillerson as U.S. secretary of state, and some are expressing hope that Pompeo will reverse Tillerson’s recent decision to side with the PLO in a lawsuit by victims of terrorism.
Pompeo “has had close ties to the Jewish community and is a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JNS. “We look forward to working with him on the many international issues and challenges he will be addressing. We hope he will review the State Department’s position on the terror victims’ lawsuits.”
Sarah Stern, president of the pro-Israel advocacy group EMET (Endowment for Middle East Truth), said she worked with Pompeo when he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. “He genuinely appreciates Israel’s unique role as America’s only reliable, democratic ally in one of the most volatile regions in the world,” Stern told JNS. She also pointed out that it was Pompeo, together with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who exposed the fact that the Obama administration signed a series of secret side agreements with Iran that gave Tehran additional benefits from the nuclear agreement.
Stern said she was “deeply disappointed” by the State Department’s decision to side with the PLO, which is currently being sued by terror victims under the terms of the Anti-Terrorism Act. The department recently submitted a brief in the Sokolow vs. PLO case, urging the Supreme Court to decline to hear the suit, primarily on technical grounds.
EMET will urge the new secretary of state to reverse that position, she said.
In a statement to JNS, B’nai B’rith International said it is “encouraged by Mike Pompeo’s record of support for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” and “shares his concern about the Iranian nuclear threat and his view of the need for continued pressure on Iran.”
Regarding the lawsuit against the PLO, B’nai B’rith said: “The Anti-Terrorism Act is intended to deter terrorist acts against the U.S. and to give recourse to victims who seek justice. B’nai B’rith supports victims of terror and their families.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told JNS that in his view, President Donald Trump “has two key foreign-policy challenges he wants to tackle: North Korea—with China an associated challenge—and Iran.” With Pompeo as secretary of state, “it seems the U.S. will actively try to deal with both. This is a big development.”
Debating the pros and cons
Conservative and Reform groups did not respond to requests for comment on the nomination. Several Orthodox groups, however, strongly praised the choice of Pompeo.
Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, to which more than 100 Orthodox synagogues belong, said he was “very pleased” by the choice of Pompeo, “who has a strong track record of support for Israel and clearly understands the threat from Iran.”
He contrasted Pompeo with outgoing secretary Rex Tillerson, who reportedly opposed U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“We also received reports of some concern about Tillerson’s position regarding a land dispute between Lebanon and Israel,” said Weiss, “and we hope that [incoming] Secretary of State Pompeo will take the right position on the issue and support the position of Israel.”
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, president of the Coalition for Jewish Values, which represents several hundred Orthodox rabbis, told JNS that his group “would like the State Department to reverse its decision not to fight for victims of the PLO terrorist organization, a decision which eviscerated the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1992.”
He also expressed hope that under Pompeo and in the wake of Trump’s Jerusalem decision, “the State Department will list ‘Jerusalem, Israel’ as the birthplace of my newest granddaughter.”
Left-of-center American Jewish groups, however, are not pleased by the nomination.
Paul Scham, president of Partners for Progressive Israel, told JNS that Pompeo is “a dangerous hawk” who “seems to believe war is a handy solution” to diplomatic conflicts.
Americans for Peace Now this week distributed an “Action Alert” calling on its member to urge senators to vote against confirming Pompeo. APN said it opposes Pompeo because he is “an ultra-hawk on Iran and fierce critic of the Iran nuclear deal,” and has “close relationships” with what it characterizes as “Islamophobic organizations.”