ADL Sues Commerce Department

The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith filed a suit in federal court today to stop the Department of Commerce from distributing Arab bid invitations containing restrictive trade and boycott provisions. The suit also asked the court to order Commerce Secretary Rogers Morton to release the names of companies that have complied with the Arab request for boycott information including the 44 which the Commerce Department has sent charging and warning letters.

“This is the first time we ever filed suit against the federal government,” Arnold Forster, the ADL’s general counsel, said at a press conference at the organization’s headquarters. Forster and Lawrence Peirez, chairman of the ADL’s national civil rights committee, are the group’s attorneys in the suit which was filed in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

Forster said the ADL “deeply regretted” the necessity for the action since for the past 20 years the American people have looked to the federal government to protect them from religious or racial discrimination. But he said the Commerce Department, the agency charged with preventing the use of the Arab boycott to discriminate against Americans, is violating U.S. law and policy by “promoting, aiding and abetting Arab boycott operations, thereby restricting free trade and discriminating against American Jews.”

The suit against “Rogers Morton in his capacity as Secretary of Commerce,” charged that the Department is itself flouting this country’s anti-boycott policy as set forth in the Export Administration Act of 1969 and is failing to comply with the Freedom of Information Act in order to shield companies which are also ignoring the policy.

RAPS QUEST FOR PETRODOLLARS

Benjamin R. Epstein, ADL national director, noted that although President Ford said last February that the boycott was “repugnant” and that the U.S. government opposes it, representatives of the Departments of Commerce, State and Justice have opposed every one of the some 40 Congressional proposals to strengthen the laws against the boycott.

He said the Commerce Department notification to the ADL that it will continue disseminating the Arab bid invitations which include the request for boycott information is evidence that the Ford Administration believes that it is more important to seek Arab petrodollars than to comply with American laws against discrimination.

Forster noted that it was “ironic” that Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger has gotten a promise from Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to reduce the boycott against Israel while he cannot get similar action from his fellow Cabinet member, Morton.

One of the documents submitted by the ADL in its suit was a confidential Commerce Department memorandum which said that since 1961 it has been the Department’s policy to supply complete information on its bids including the boycott reference because “we would not properly serve the interests of U.S. business by delaying it the complete conditions of the bid invitation.”

DISPUTES DEPARTMENT’S CLAIM

Epstein also disputed the Commerce Department’s claim that there was a distinction between the Arab economic boycott of Israel and discrimination against American Jews, which is illegal. “Both defy U.S. statutes–and since implementation of the Arab boycott is directed primarily against American Jews, the two are synonymous.”

The ADL suit came after the Commerce Department told the group it would continue to send out the Arab bid invitations and after the Department’s refusal to release the names of the companies complying with the boycott requests to the ADL and others including the House Commerce Committee. Forster said Morton’s action in refusing to reveal the names was to “protect those firms from exposure and criticism by the American people.”

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