Commerce Department, White House Mum on ADL Suit Against Department

Department of Commerce and White House spokesmen declined today to comment on the suit filed yesterday by the B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation League charging the Department and Secretary of Commerce Rogers Morton with, in effect, abetting compliance by American firms with the Arab boycott against Israel.

William Rhatican, director of communications at the Department of Commerce, said Morton would not discuss the suit until the legal papers have been served on him. The White House cited the absence of President Ford, who is visiting New Hampshire today, for withholding comment on the issue.

The ADL suit filed in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, seeks to stop the Commerce Department from distributing Arab bid invitations to American firms containing restrictive trade and boycott provisions. It also asked the court to order Morton to release the names of American companies that have complied with the Arab request for boycott information.

POSSIBLE DOMESTIC BOYCOTT CITED

Rhatican indicated that Morton was unlikely to reconsider his refusal to submit copies of exporters’ requests which must be filed with the Department under the Export Administration Act and which are being sought by the House Commerce Committee. He indicated that while Morton would supply Congress with all the information he could, the names of companies that filed the reports would not be disclosed because this could open them to a domestic boycott.

Rhatican observed that the Export Administration Act provides that information received by the Department of Commerce should remain confidential unless Morton makes a “national interest determination” to the contrary.

He summed up the Department’s position when he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that participation in a boycott by American firms is not against the law although it is against United States policy. Ford himself said last February that the Arab boycott was “repugnant” and that the U.S. government opposes it. The President and Morton are known to have discussed the issue before the ADL suit was filed.

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