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Behind the Headlines the Arab Boycott in Britain

In February, the House of Lords will debate the recommendations of a Lords committee that the British government and British industry should take a forthright stand against the Arab boycott. The Lords committee suggested that the Foreign Office should stop processing “negative certificates of origin” required by some Arab governments, and which have been banned in the United States. This, and other steps proposed by the committee, are under consideration by various government departments.

Whether they would have much effect, however, is far from clear. For even though anti-boycott circles claimed the House of Lords report as a major success, the boycott itself is a deeply ingrained fact of business life.

A glance through the files of the Anglo-Israel Chamber of Commerce illustrates the psychological hold which the boycott has over businessmen in European countries. The Chamber of Commerce follows up the many cases reported to it. But usually their approaches fail, and often they are simply ignored. In other cases, there is only a suspicion that a company has refused to deal with Israel or a Jewish concern because of the boycott. Here are some of the cases on the Chamber’s file:

EXAMPLES OF THE BOYCOTT

An Israeli sports shop in Jerusalem which supplies goods to the United Nations was interested in purchasing an assortment of games from a well-known British company. The games would have been distributed to UN forces in south Lebanon and other Middle East sectors.

On hearing that the agent was an Israeli company, the British firm said that it would have to consult its overseas department. The Israeli company had asked for the British firm’s catalogue, but never received it. The Chamber has been in touch with the British company, which expressed shock at the incident. But since the order was for Christmas gifts, the damage had already been done.

Another case involves the growing practice of publishers to omit Israel from the maps of the Middle East. Bartholomew, the leading British map publishers, have brought out a world travel map of the Arabian peninsula in which the name “Palestine” appears between the Negev desert and the sea of Galilee. On being challenged about it, Bartholomew said that they were merely copying a map issued by the Oxford University Press. This has been confirmed, and inquiries have also been sent to the Oxford University Press.

Israel is also unnamed in a map in the summer 1978 issue of the Sheraton Hotel group’s magazine, featuring its hotels in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

A more prestigious publication which ignores the existence of Israel is the world famous bi-monthly Guide to the Drug Industry, commonly known as “Mims,” which is used by doctors and hospitals. The Middle East edition of “Mims” lists the agents of international drug companies in all countries from Malta to Ethiopia, but leaves out Israel.

VAGUE EXPLANATIONS OFFERED

In refusing to do business with Israeli companies, European businesses offer vague explanations about the “difficulties” of the “present situation.” Here are two examples:

In reply to a Haifa hotel’s interest in purchasing a new telephone switchboard, a subsidiary of the famous Swedish Ericsson Company (which has major contracts in the Arab world) wrote: “We are pleased to note your interest in our products. However, we have decided not to start any business activity in Israel for the time being and therefore refrain from sending more detailed information.”

Astra Pharmaceuticals International, another Swedish company, replied as follows to a business inquiry from a Tel Aviv cosmetics laboratory: “We regret having to inform you that due to present circumstances we are unable to discuss the possibility of a cooperation. However, should there be any changes in the present conditions, we will be pleased to revert to you in this matter. Thank you for the interest shown our company.”

FALL IN BRITISH EXPORTS TO ISRAEL

Cases such as these are often referred to the Anglo-Israel Chamber of Commerce by its sister body in Israel in the hope that non-British companies can be approached through their British subsidiaries or parent companies.

Dealing with the boycott is only a secondary task of the Chamber whose main job is to promote trade between Britain and Israel in both directions. However, over the years, the two have become increasingly intertwined.

Harry Schwab, the Chamber’s executive secretary, believes that fear of the boycott is a prime reason for the fall in British exports to Israel, both in value and in volume. In the first II months of 1978, British exports to Israel dropped six percent to 230 million Pounds Sterling. At the same time, Israeli sales to Britain shot up 16 percent to 177 million Pounds Sterling.

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