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British Jews Demanding New Laws, Prodded by Utility’s Israel Snub

Angered by the biggest state-owned electric company’s refusal to do business with Israel, British Jewry leaders are demanding tough new laws to prevent British firms from succumbing to the Arab League’s boycott.

The furor arose because British Electricity International, the overseas consulting firm of National Power, rejected an offer to work with the state-owned Israel Electric Corp. on grounds that it might “prejudice” its position in the Arab countries.

It was the first time a state-owned British firm has submitted to the boycott.

“Our decision whether or not to compete for work in Israel or Lebanon or Syria or any other country is founded upon assessment of our commercial interests,” British Electric Managing Director John Anderson said this week. He refused to elaborate.

Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, who just returned from Israel, told Parliament on Wednesday that the government deplored the Arab boycott. But he refused to answer a question about National Power.

“How specific British enterprises respond to the boycott is not a matter for me,” he said in reply to a question by Labor MP Greville Janner.

The Israel Electric Corp. approached National Power last April for consulting services.

OPERATED IN 70 COUNTRIES

British Electric’s regional director for Europe and the Middle East, K. Bernard, replied that the firm operated in 70 countries worldwide, including many Arab countries.

“We have a longstanding relationship with these countries and it would prejudice the position of BEI and National Power were we to also work with your company,” Bernard wrote.

Israel Electric’s secretary, Pinchas Miara, fired off an angry letter. “Is BEI on its knees before the Arab states? Did you not blush when you signed your letter, which we consider a disgrace to your company?’ he asked.

No reply has been forthcoming.

Speaking from Jerusalem, the chairman of the British-Israel Chamber of Commerce Anti-Boycott Committee, Martin Savitt, said National Power told him it had assessed its business interests in Israel and intended to stick to its guns in light of its commercial interests.

National Power Chairman Sir Trevor Holds-worth was unavailable for comment. But a spokeswoman for the company said BEI’s decision was based on “its commercial interests and it does not support the Arab boycott.”

Asked if Bernard’s letter did not imply a political decision, the spokeswoman replied, “That’s your interpretation.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews is pressing for the introduction of new anti-boycott laws similar to those in the United States.

Meanwhile, Manny Klausner, chairman of the Board’s Israel Committee, said British Jews “should not deal” with companies which boycotted Israel.

Asked if he would advise British Jews not to buy shares in National Power, which is soon to be privatized, Klausner replied, “That’s something we should consider.”

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