Media Analysis

Pompeo’s speech was partly an appeal to the pro-Israel lobby — but the U.S. media missed the connection

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The U.S. mainstream media vigorously and rightly criticized Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for violating custom and probably the law by speaking to the Republican Convention. The New York Times went even farther and examined Pompeo’s motivation— pointing out, in a headline: “Pompeo Delivers R.N.C. Speech from Israel With Eye Toward 2024.” 

The Times contended that Pompeo was aiming at “white evangelical voters.” Nowhere did it, or the rest of the American media, suggest that he might also be trying to win support from the right-wing of the pro-Israel lobby, which includes mega campaign donors like the billionaire gambling magnate, Sheldon Adelson. 

The Times report, by Lara Jakes, included one jaw-dropping quotation. Mark Dubowitz heads the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C., group that part of the Israel lobby set up to instigate the U.S. against Iran. Dubowitz, a Canadian, has no known expertise on American elections. But the Times report has Dubowitz saying: “. . . Pompeo is like any other ambitious politician.” And:

He has the future in mind, and certainly wrapping up the evangelical vote for 2024 is absolutely critical to the success of any Republican candidate. I can’t imagine it’s not in the back of his mind.

Connecting Pompeo’s speech to evangelical Christians is not wrong — he is one himself. But recent American political history suggests there’s more to the story. Republican candidates for the presidency go through what even Politico has dubbed the “Adelson primary,” to win the billionaire’s backing, by going to Las Vegas and convincing Adelson they will be strong on Israel. During the 2012 campaign for the Republican nomination, Sheldon Adelson kept former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s bid alive, donating $20 million at a critical point in March that year. In 2016 Marco Rubio initially won the Adelson primary but Adelson later became Donald Trump’s number one donor, and Trump is believed to have torn up the Iran deal to please Adelson, moved the embassy, and appointed the hardline John Bolton as national security adviser. The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has received at least $1.5 million from Adelson– no wonder Dubowitz wants to talk about Christian evangelicals!

Mike Pompeo’s stiff Jerusalem speech was another reminder that he has, to put it charitably, limited charisma — and $20 million could help him stand out in a crowded Republican primary field in 2024.

Mike Pompeo greets Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, August 24, 2020. Israeli Government photograph.

If Pompeo had spoken from, say, Exxon’s world headquarters, reporters surely would have followed the oil money. 

The Washington Post also missed this part of the story. The paper noted:

Pompeo’s speech was taped in Jerusalem apparently in part to highlight the successful foreign policy narrative of normalized relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, a recognition popular with President Trump’s base of evangelical voters.

On closer inspection, this sentence is amusing. On a list of what “Trump’s base of evangelical voters” care about, “normalized relations” between the UAE and Israel barely registers. But pro-Israel mega donors like Sheldon Adelson, Bernard Marcus (cofounder of Home Depot), and the neoconservative financier Paul Singer, are doubtless ecstatic — and they will remember when Mike Pompeo enters the 2024 race.  

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View all comments “Top 3 Humiliating Failures of Pompeo as Secretary of State”  By Juan Cole, Informed Comment, August 26/20 EXCERPTS: “What goes around comes around. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo has been declared by the New York Times the worst secretary of state in history. “He certainly is the most corrupt. Trump actually had to fire the inspector general for the state department to stop his investigation of Pompeo’s personal use of government funds. “Pompeo’s appearance at… Read more »

I’ve been away from Mondoweiss for too long. It is incredibly rare to find a publication to actually
say the name Sheldon Adelson. Some news organization should file a freedom of information request for Adelson-Pompeo telephone traffic.

The only time Pompeo looks really happy is when he’s sitting on Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman’s lap giggling.

Breaking news: Al Jazeera, August 26/20 “Bahrain rejects US push to normalize relations with Israel” “In talks with US Secretary of State Pompeo, King Hamad says Bahrain is committed to the creation of a Palestinian state.” EXCERPT: “Bahrain’s king has told visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the Gulf state is committed to the creation of a Palestinian state, according to state media, in an implicit rejection of Washington’s push for Arab countries… Read more »

Apparently, never in the history of political conventions has an American official stood on foreign soil, to give a political speech. This was also made in a controversial city. This must have got the blessing of Bibi (to return the favor that Donald and Kushner did for him), and was done for the benefit of the Evangelicals, apart from impressing the American Jews. So Trump used the White House, Jerusalem, and the wife from Slovenia,… Read more »