WASHINGTON (Oct. 1)
The Department of Commerce, under pressure from Congress over the Arab boycott of American firms doing business with Israel or under Jewish management, has moved for the first time in 10 years toward insisting on knowing whether an American firm intends to help the boycott, but continued to resist making public the name of any company participating in the boycott.
However, Commerce Secretary Rogers C.B. Morton was said to have offered to help offset the Arab boycott during a 75-minute meeting in his office last night with Haim Barlev, Israel’s Minister of Commerce and Industry. William Rhatican, Morton’s special assistant and the department’s communications director, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Morton had volunteered to Barlev to call any American firm the Israelis could identify as refusing to deal with Israel because of the Arab boycott to try to persuade the company to do business with Israel. Rhatican said Morton called the Arab boycott “dirty politics.”
When the JTA asked whether any discussion took place between Morton and Barlev on American firms refusing to open their markets to Is- raeli products because of the boycott, Rhatican said Barlev did not raise that question.
Under the new policy, starting today, the Commerce Department will require any American exporter who gets a request to help the Arab boycott to make that request known to the department along with his intention about complying with such a request. Previously, provision to the department of information on intent was not mandatory.
MORTON HAD BEEN WARNED
The new policy was disclosed in a letter from Morton to Rep. John Moss (D.Cal.), chairman of the investigations subcommittee of the House interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee probing the Arab boycott and the role in it of major American companies, and to Sen. Adlai Stevenson (D.I11.), chairman of the Senate sub-committee on international Finance of the Senate Banking and Urban Affairs Committee, concerned with legislation on mandatory reporting by American exporters.
Moss had warned Morton that the Secretary’s refusal to show Congress confidential Commerce Department reports on the boycott could lead to Morton’s being cited for contempt of Congress.
The Morton letters followed a subcommittee hearing last week during which Rep, James H, Scheuer (D.NY) reminded Morton that participation by American firms in the boycott against Israel “is contrary to American policy as stated by the President, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Commerce.”
Calling the department’s decision to determine intention a “significant change in Commerce Department policy,” which Morton had previously “resisted,” Scheuer added that two questions remained–“will the Secretary reveal to the subcommittee in confidence the names of U.S. firms which are participating in the boycott? And since participating in the Arab boycott is contrary to the spirit of the anti-trust laws, why does not the Commerce Department join our efforts to make boycott participation illegal?”
Morton’s letter noted that, under the Export Regulations Act of 1965, an American company is asked but is not required to indicate whether it intends to reply to the boycott request. Morton wrote, “I have concluded that henceforth information as to whether or not an exporter intends to comply with a boycott-related request should be sought on a mandatory basis, Accordingly, the department’s export regulations and reporting forms are being so revised effective for all reports submitted on or after Oct. 1, 1975.”
MORTON’S POSITION REAFFIRMED
However, Rhatican reaffirmed that Morton’s position in refusing to reveal the names of American firms involved in the boycott “still stands.” If the question comes before the courts, he said, it would be up to the court to decide whether Congress is to get the names.
The Moss subcommittee has been probing Commerce Department practices after receiving separate complaints on the issue from the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the American Jewish Congress. Both groups have filed separate suits in federal courts to compel the Commerce Department to disclose the names of the American firms providing information on their approaches from Arab boycott officials.