British Government Sitting on Its Hands on Arab Boycott

The British government has clearly signaled that it is likely to be even less energetic than the previous Labor administration in acting against the Arab boycott. Exchanges in the House of Lords have confirmed that the Foreign Office has made no headway in meeting two of the key suggestions of a House of Lords select committee.

One of them was to scrap the practice where-by the Foreign Office authenticates signatures on negative certificates of origin. The other was to explore the possibility of joint action within the European Economic Community (EEC).

The negative certificates which state that goods destined for an Arab customer do not originate in Israel, have been criticized as discriminating against a country with which Britain is friendly. Similar documents have been banned in the United States and in Britain they are required by only a few Arab countries – Iraq, Libya, Syria the two Yemens and Bahrein.

Lord Refgarne, on behalf of the Foreign Office, claimed that in authenticating these documents, the government was in no way condoning their content. However, to cease processing them involved “a difficult point of principle and a grave risk to our exports,” he said.

This was strongly rejected by several peers, including Lord Redeliffe-Maud, chairman of the Select Committee which studied the Arab boycott last year. He said that the government’s signature on such documents gave the “very strong impression” that it was involved in the boycott process. The government spokesman was also unenthusiastic about the Select Committee’s call for joint action in the EEC.

The discussion on this issue last Thursday was prompted by Lord Janner, veteran president of the Zionist Federation, who criticized the government’s failure to reach a decision on negative certificates of origin, even though they had been under review for a long time.

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