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U.S. Delaying Inquiry into Israeli Trade Violations

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is delaying hearings into Israel’s treatment of Palestinian workers until after Election Day, partly to eliminate potential Jewish backlash to Vice President George Bush’s presidential bid, a well-placed trade representative source said Monday.

The decision was made “to ensure an orderly and deliberative process,” the source said, but also to prevent it from “becoming an election-year issue.”

Stephen Silbiger, Washington representative of the American Jewish Congress, accused the trade office of caving into pressure from the Bush campaign.

Silbiger said that the Bush campaign “did not want this to hit the Jewish community and the Jewish press before the elections.”

If the hearings were held before the election, he said, “The Jewish community would realize the seriousness of this issue.”

A key Jewish supporter at Bush’s campaign headquarters sharply denied any Republican coercion on U.S. Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter to delay the proceedings.

“There was no pressure put on Clayton Yeutter in anyway,” said Jacob Stein, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “This is a normal internal decision by the U.S. trade representative for whatever reasons he thought best.”

Another source at the trade representative’s office said the delay was needed to give office staffers more preparation time.

Seven countries are being investigated this year under the so-called Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program. The others are Syria, Haiti, Burma, Malaysia, Liberia and the Central African Republic.

Israel is being investigated because the office accepted an Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee petition charging Israel with violating Palestinian rights to organize; to work under basic standards of health and safety; and to receive a minimum wage.

Monday marked the deadline for all parties, including U.S. Jewish groups, to submit testimony summaries to the trade representative.

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