LONDON (Feb. 2)
Attempts to curtail the Arab boycott in Britain took an important step forward this week when the House of Lords referred draft legislation outlawing compliance with foreign boycotts to a select committee for detailed consideration.
The move was taken despite strong opposition by both the government and Conservative opposition. The draft legislation, entitled the Foreign Boycotts Bill, had been introduced by Lord Byers, the Liberal Party’s leader in the upper house. It now faces a tough bottle in the committee stage, where opponents will try to weaken it. To become law, it must then be carried by both houses of Parliament.
During Monday’s lengthy debate, Lord Byers said the Arab boycott had involved Britain in economic warfare against Israel. Under his bill, businessmen who illegally complied with such a boycott could face fines of up to 10,000 Pounds Sterling or jail sentences of up to two years.
More than 1000 British companies had been blacklisted for failing to comply with the Arab boycott, Lord Byers added. Fear of the boycott had caused a loss of business and of jobs in Britain and had even aroused anti-Semitism. By adopting such legislation, Britain would be setting a lead in the European Economic Community.
SAYS BRITAIN NEEDS ARAB TRADE
For the government, however, Baroness Stedman, Environment Undersecretary, said that while all trade boycotts lacking international authority were deplorable, hundreds of thousands of jobs possibly depended on the maintenance and growth of British exports to the Arab world.
Last year, these were worth 2.700 billion Pounds Sterling, an increase of 452 percent since 1973 and more than eight percent of Britain’s total exports. Exports to Israel last year totalled 274 million Pounds Sterling, an increase of 46 percent since 1973.
Meanwhile, major British companies which have boycotted Israel in order to win big contracts in the Arab world are expected to be asked to testify before a committee of members of the House of Lords which will begin work in about one month’s time.
Lord Byers told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that it is still not clear whether the committee will be able to force witnesses to testify before it. However, he expected its inquiries to go very deeply into the operations of the Arab boycott in Britain. The committee’s sessions will be held in camera and could last up to six months.