(photo credit: BDS)
The US has a long history of working to dismantle economic boycotts against Israel. In response to the Arab League Boycott starting in 1948, Congress enacted legislation in 1976 and 1979 banning US companies from participating. The US Commerce Department still maintains an office to ensure that American companies live up to the law.
In the mid-2000s, when the US negotiated trade agreements with Bahrain and Oman, both Arab countries acquiesced to the American demand to drop their boycotts against Israel.
On Wednesday, Congress passed another piece of anti-boycott legislation, potentially even more important in its impact, as part of a trade deal with the European Union’s Trade Promotion Authority.
US President Barack Obama’s call to swiftly negotiate a trade deal with the EU’s TPA presented a unique opportunity to US lawmakers interested in fighting sanctions directed at Israel.
An amendment introduced by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Illinois) and co-authored with Rep. Juan Vargas (D-California), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), and Sen.
Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was attached to this year’s Trade Promotion Authority bill with the EU.
Essentially, the amendment states that if EU countries want free trade with the US, they can’t engage in politically motivated boycotts against Israel, including areas that came under Israel’s control in the Six Day War.
From an American perspective, the amendment is good because it promotes free trade. American companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Intel that are heavily invested in Israel out of purely economic considerations could find themselves in legal battles with the EU. The American economic growth and the American jobs generated thanks to ties with Israel would be put at risk. US firms should not be forced to choose between Israel and Europe.
Fighting boycotts against Israel does not only make good economic sense for the US, it is also the right thing to do.
Using bigoted tactics – economic sanctions, diplomatic gestures, rejection of research, and development cooperation – to pressure Israel to cave in to Palestinians’ demands is wrong.
Firstly, it places the blame for the ongoing conflict solely on Israel, while the Palestinians are portrayed as the victims of circumstances completely out of their control. The reality is much more complicated, which is precisely why the two sides must ultimately reach an agreement through mutual compromises and dialogue.
Secondly, sanctions that single out Israel create an atmosphere of prejudice and animosity. It should come as no surprise that in EU countries today the lines between blatant anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing are blurred beyond recognition. The distance between indicting Israel for purposely perpetuating the “occupation” and outright delegitimization of the State of Israel is not great. After all, since 1967, consecutive Israeli governments, both on the Left and on the Right, have supported maintaining settlement blocs such as Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion. Were they all illegitimate? EU sanctions and the BDS movement have created a noxious atmosphere in which support for Israel is considered a crime. Even The Jerusalem Post, a newspaper that strives to report fairly and evenhandedly on the most contentious issues and provides a platform for a wide range of opinions – including those on the Right – has been accused of inciting to violence.
Our only “crime” is that we are avowedly Zionist in our outlook.
Because of this “crime” reporters have faced vicious attacks on Tweeter and other social networks by cowards who hide behind the anonymity of the Internet.
Just recently, an anti-Israel tweeter distributed a photoshopped picture of one of our reporters in a Waffen SS uniform.
That’s why the US’s consistent stand against boycotts, reaffirmed this week in the amendment to the Trade Promotion Authority bill, is so important. This sort of legislation counters prevailing anti-Israel trends and combats the tendency to conflate the State of Israel and all who support it with evil. The reality is that Israel has much to contribute to the world, if it is given the chance. Removing the threat of sanctions will do precisely that.