Two months ago, for the second time since Donald Trump entered the White House, the US Treasury Department published a brief notice that warrants serious attention as well as immediate action by Washington.
As required by US law, the Treasury released a quarterly “list of countries requiring cooperation with an international boycott.”
The list, which appears in the Federal Register (Vol. 82, No. 147), consists entirely of nine Arab countries which continue to implement various aspects of the Arab League boycott of Israel. They include failed states such as Libya and Syria, but also ostensible US allies such as Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Though long since written off as a relic of the past, the Arab trade embargo against the Jewish state remains on the books and has never been formally lifted. It is time for this to change and for the US to flex its diplomatic muscles to get the boycott rescinded once and for all.
Launched in 1945, before the Jewish state had even been established, the Arab boycott is nothing less than a form of economic warfare aimed at undermining the existence of Israel. It remains a powerful symbol of the Arab-Israeli conflict even if its enforcement is far more lax than it once was.
Recognizing its deleterious consequences, official US policy has long been to oppose the boycott. In 1977, Congress passed legislation that prohibits American firms from cooperating with any boycott requests, with violators facing civil and possible criminal penalties.
While it is an open secret that businessmen in a number of Gulf Arab states quietly engage in commerce with the “Zionist entity,” it is also a fact that others actually have government departments tasked with preventing such trade.
Take, for example, the UAE’s Ministry of Economy, which is based in Abu Dhabi. On its official English-language website, the ministry brazenly states that one of its responsibilities is to “implement legislation for the Israel boycott and taking necessary decisions on this concern.”
Just recently, the Trademarks Department of the Ministry published a Services Guide 2017 that says explicitly that anyone applying to register a trademark in the UAE must present certification that the item in question has not been “banned from the Israel Boycott Bureau in the Ministry.”
It is not only the Gulf states that present a problem in this regard. On June 1, Lebanese authorities made headlines worldwide when they decided to ban the film “Wonder Woman” because it starred Israeli actress Gal Gadot.
Lebanon’s Ministry of Economy and Trade went so far as to issue an official statement declaring that it had “taken all necessary action” to prevent the movie from being screened.
As CNN Money reported at the time, “Lebanon bans the purchase of Israeli products and its citizens are not allowed to travel there.”
“We refuse to normalize relations with an enemy state,” Rania Masri, a member of the Lebanese group Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel told the network.
“We’re not talking about a political disagreement, were talking about resistance against occupation.”
Then there are countries such as Iraq and Kuwait, the governments of which both owe their very existence to US intervention in the region over the past three decades. It simply defies belief that despite everything Washington has done for these two countries, they would persist in defying American pressure on this issue.
And don’t forget about Saudi Arabia, where President Trump paid his first foreign visit earlier this year.
Back in December 2005, the Bush Administration acceded to Riyadh’s request to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the condition that the desert kingdom would remove the boycott, which it promised to do. But the Saudi royals wasted little time in making a mockery of that pledge. Just three months after entering the WTO, they played host in March 2006 to a major international conference aimed at intensifying the anti-Israel boycott.
As a Jerusalem Post correspondent at the time, I interviewed Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, who now happens to be Vice President of the United States. In an April 19, 2007, news story I wrote headlined, “Congressmen blast Saudis for continued boycott,” Pence said the following: “Saudi Arabia’s boycott of Israel never should have existed in the first place and they should end it immediately.”
He added that the embargo was “a relic of wars waged decades ago and there is simply no moral or strategic reason there should be a boycott at all.”
Pence also suggested that the continuing boycott could impact the US-Saudi relationship.
“The Saudis clearly need to do a better job of living up to their commitments if they expect to have warm relations with the United States,” he asserted.
That, as I noted, was over a decade ago. Nonetheless, despite its promise to Washington, as well as WTO rules prohibiting member states from engaging in discriminatory practices such as boycotts, Saudi Arabia continues publicly to shun the Jewish state.
Now is the time for Washington to act to bring about an end to the Arab boycott. As an August 25 report by the Congressional Research Service noted, “The Arab League has acknowledged that US pressure has affected its ability to maintain the boycott.”
Cracks have begun to appear, as evidenced by reports last month that the King of Bahrain said he was “tired” of the boycott and that it was time for a change.
As he strives to make progress in the Middle East, Donald Trump can make history with a simple yet firm demand from America’s ostensible Arab allies: if you are serious about peace with Israel, then drop the boycott once and for all.