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Japan, South Korea Accused of Backing Boycott of Israel

More than 100 members of Congress are charging the governments of Japan and South Korea with “condoning” decisions by firms in their countries not to sell goods to Israel.

In letters Aug. 7 to then Japanese Prime Minister Sosuke Uno and South Korean Premier Kang Young Hoon, 101 U.S. lawmakers accused them of violating “free-trade principles.”

“We urge you to send a powerful, unambiguous signal to your business community, encouraging free and open trade with Israel,” the lawmakers wrote.

They asked Uno to establish a trade promotion office in Israel, and Hoon to allow Israel to reopen an embassy there that Israel had closed in 1978 to save money.

The letter was drafted by the International Committee for Free Trade, a 1984 creation of the American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. The letter was co-signed by Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) and Norman Mineta (D-Calif.).

An Ackerman aide said Monday that he had not received any response.

But officials of the Japanese and South Korean governments dismissed charges that they encourage boycott behavior.

Noriyuki Shikata, a Japanese Embassy official, said it is inconceivable that his government would tell companies not to trade with Israel.

He argued that firms may elect not to trade with Israel based on private decisions about “making profits or not.”

“It is true Japan has to import some products from Arab countries, especially oil, and we just can’t cut relations with those countries,” he said. More than 50 percent of Japan’s oil is imported from the Arab world.

Nevertheless, Shikata said, “We think it is very important to maintain good relations with Israel.” He noted that Uno, as Japan’s foreign minister, visited Israel in June 1988, the first such trip by a senior Japanese official.

Shikata contrasted any private economic boycott with the government’s being “very eager to play any kind of role” in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Sangkyu Lee, a South Korean Embassy official, had no comment on boycott accusations except to say Korean policy is “not to meddle in or side with” either party in the Middle East.

WORST TRADE POLICIES

But Will Maslow, AJCongress’ general counsel and editor of its Boycott Report, said Japan and South Korea have the worst trade policies toward Israel of any Western countries.

Japan, but not South Korea, has full diplomatic relations with Israel. U.S.-Japanese trade totalled $1.2 billion last year, roughly $800 million of that in Japanese exports to Israel.

While Japan imported $400 million worth of Israeli goods, a large chunk of that was in diamonds, which are conducive to a pro-Arab boycott policy, said Maslow. Diamonds are not marked with their country of origin.

Israel has a trade surplus with South Korea, based on 1987 figures reported by the International Monetary Fund. Israeli imports that year were $20 million while exports were $46 million.

Maslow said that of the two countries, Japan “at least is sensitive” to criticism and has been “moving slowly” to rectify boycott complaints. “Korea does not give a damn,” he asserted.

For example, in government reports, “Korea does not cite Israel as a trading partner,” where-as Japan does, Maslow said.

By contrast, Hong Kong and Singapore “have forsworn the Arab boycott and enjoy strong economic relations with Israel,” the lawmakers wrote.

In 1987, Singapore exported $53 million worth of goods to Israel and imported $32 million. Hong Kong exported $122 million and imported $344 worth of goods.

Maslow praised Secretary of State James Baker for publicly calling in May for an end to Arab boycotts of Israel, which he could not recall having been done in recent memory by any other top U.S. officials.

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