Democrats, Republicans rebuke White House for stance on Israel boycotts

Obama said the administration will not fight efforts to boycott, divest and sanction the state over its occupation of the West Bank.

February 26, 2016 19:11
2 minute read.
US President Barack Obama gestures during a meeting with American Jewish leaders

US President Barack Obama gestures during a meeting with American Jewish leaders. (photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO / PETE SOUZA)


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MIAMI – Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill joined Republicans on Friday to rebuke the Obama administration for its decision not to enforce part of a law that would penalize US trading partners boycotting products originating in Israeli-controlled territories.

The customs bill is a congressional guide for the administration in its trade negotiations with Europe. Included in that bill, signed into law this week, is a provision "that discourages our trading partners from taking politically-motivated commercial actions against Israel," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, alongside colleagues Chuck Schumer of New York, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

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"Such actions run counter to longstanding US policy opposing politically-motivated boycotts of, divestments from, or sanctions against Israel and it is incumbent upon the United States to use every diplomatic tool to stop our trading partners from imposing such misguided actions," the Democratic senators said, characterizing the movement as anti-Semitic. "Moreover, such policy has long been reflected in the US–Israel Free Trade Agreement, which does not distinguish tariff treatment among products based on whether they were produced in Israeli territories."

Issuing a signing statement on Wednesday, US President Barack Obama said his administration has been, and continues to be, aggressively opposed to all boycotts of Israel. But he said the administration will not fight efforts to boycott, divest and sanction the state over its occupation of the West Bank.

"Certain provisions of this act, by conflating Israel and 'Israeli-controlled territories,' are contrary to longstanding bipartisan United States policy, including with regard to the treatment of settlements," the president said.

Presidential prerogative on matters of foreign policy allow for him to freely interpret the statute, Obama continued. He said he would enforce the law in a way that comports with previous US policy.

"While the Obama Administration has reiterated its opposition to boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions targeting the State of Israel, it has mischaracterized the TPA and Customs bill provisions as making a US policy statement about Israeli settlements. This simply is not the case," the Democratic senators continued. "We urge the Administration to implement these provisions as enacted and intended."

Republican pushback against the president was swift, with several of the bill's authors characterizing the move as yet one more in a series of steps proving Obama's opposition to Israel.

If enforced, the provision amounts to the most significant anti-BDS law to pass on the federal level in decades. But the fight against boycotters has gone local, with several state municipalities pioneering the cause.

Florida's legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill this week that declares the state government will no longer invest in, or contract with, any company that subscribes to the boycott movement. The Sunshine State follows on the coattails of California, Illinois and South Carolina– with a similar bill on the docket in New York.

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