On the evening of Passover, the Jewish holiday, Vice President Kamala Harris’s office assured the anti-Israel left that Harris’s decision to serve Israeli wine produced in the West Bank at a Seder doesn’t mean the administration is taking a pro-Israel turn.
“The wine served at the Seder [dinner] was in no way intended to be an expression of policy,” tweeted Herbie Ziskend, a top Harris adviser. Ziskend was referring to Harris’s decision to serve wine from the Psagot winery, which is located in the West Bank and has been a primary target for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which wages economic warfare on Israel.
Ziskend’s statement was meant to soothe BDS activists who had blasted the vice president for buying a product from an area they consider occupied Palestinian territory. Ziskend’s attempt to defuse the controversy, however, generated more doubts about the Biden administration’s commitment to battle the BDS movement.
While the White House has expressed vocal opposition to the BDS movement, its State Department has hired several officials who have publicly backed Israel boycotts and have been critical of the Jewish state. The Washington Free Beacon first reported in March that the administration is offering nearly $1 million in grant money for groups to investigate alleged human rights abuses in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, an effort that critics say is meant to delegitimize the world’s only Jewish state.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Ziskend’s tweet and its stance on the BDS movement.
Harris’s office went into damage control after Israeli reports on her wine selection left BDS activists on Twitter up in arms.
“They should have known better. She wouldn’t make this mistake with wine from Kashmir or Kosovo—or with products breaking the ban on
Russia,” tweeted one observer. “How did NO ONE on their staff stop this?!?!,” said another. A third said, “How do you celebrate Passover supposedly a celebration of freedom by drinking wine from stolen lands and taking away other people freedom.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) said the Passover wine row illustrates how the Biden administration courts the BDS movement in contrast to its rhetoric.
“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris just can’t help themselves. They say they support Israel, but they take every opportunity they can to bolster anti-Israel boycott campaigns,” Cruz told the Free Beacon. “It’s disgraceful.”
“The State Department is already giving nearly $1 million to subsidize the international NGO campaign to demonize and isolate Israel, and now the vice president’s office is wringing their hands about where in Israel her wine came from,” Cruz said. “The only trade policy the United States should have toward Israel is that we want to trade with Israel, full stop.”
The administration’s decision to distance itself from the West Bank winery is renewing focus on its hiring of anti-Israel activists.
Elizabeth Campbell, former director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), was hired as a deputy assistant secretary of state at the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. UNRWA has long faced criticism for promoting anti-Semitism and terrorism in Palestinian schools. Campbell, in her work as a UNRWA official, oversaw the agency’s use of school textbooks that promote anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews, the Free Beacon reported.
The Biden administration also has tapped Sarah Margon to become the State Department’s human-rights chief. Margon’s nomination has been stalled in the Senate due to her years of anti-Israel activism. Before being nominated for an administration job, Margon served as the Washington, D.C., director at Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit organization that routinely criticizes Israel and accuses it of engaging in “crimes against humanity.”
Asked about the Passover wine issue and subsequent accusations of support for the BDS movement, a State Department spokesman told the Free Beacon that it rejects efforts to isolate Israel.
“The United States firmly rejects the BDS movement, which unfairly singles out Israel,” the official said. “While the Biden-Harris administration will fully and always respect the American people’s First Amendment rights, the United States will be a strong partner in fighting efforts to delegitimize Israel, and we will work tirelessly to support Israel’s further integration into the international community.”
“We believe it is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, this certainly includes settlement activity,” the State Department said.
One senior Republican congressional official who works on Israel issues told the Free Beacon that the administration’s anti-BDS statements are undermined by its actions.
“Democrats say they oppose anti-Semitism and BDS but they’re totally silent when the Biden administration funds anti-Semitic attacks on Israel and tweets BDS dog whistles,” said the source, who was not authorized to speak on record.