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Toyota Will Now Sell Cars in Israel, Ending Compliance with Arab Boycott

Toyota Motor Corp. has announced it will soon start selling cars in Israel, making it one of the first major Japanese companies to come out publicly against the Arab-led economic boycott of Israel.

“This is the most significant company to break with the boycott,” said William Rapfogel, executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs, the public policy arm of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

“We’re very hopeful that the change in Toyota is a harbinger of things to come and that other companies will see opportunity in Israel and not feel the need to restrict trade with Israel.”

Over the past few years, Toyota had come under increasing pressure from Jewish organizations to begin sales in Israel.

Many Jewish groups contacted Toyota to express concern “that we were in tacit compliance” with the boycott, said Tim Andree, manager for external affairs at Toyota’s North American headquarters here.

Although Toyota never admitted it adhered to the boycott of Israel, it was one of numerous Japanese companies which for years had refused to do business with the Jewish state.

“Our answer then, as it is now, is that we had to find the right partner and study the market, and that we don’t jump into any market quickly,” said Andree.

The economic boycott of Israel, which was organized in 1951 by the 21 nations of the Arab League, not only prohibits companies from engaging in trade with Israel, but also seeks to isolate companies that do business with the Jewish state.

JEWISH GROUPS PLEASED

In the wake of the war in the Persian Gulf, and American assistance to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, U.S. officials have become more sensitive to the economic boycott and its psychological and economic impact on Israel.

Secretary of State James Baker has suggested to Arab countries that they drop the boycott as a sign of good faith for future negotiations with Israel.

Jewish groups, meanwhile, have been focusing on Japanese compliance. Last week, the International Committee for Free Trade with Israel, an umbrella organization of six major Jewish groups, met with Japanese Embassy officials in Washington to express their concern over boycott compliance.

Toyota’s decision was lauded by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, which issued a statement Thursday welcoming the move and calling on other Japanese companies to follow Toyota’s lead.

“Efforts by Arab states to enforce the economic boycott of Israel are destructive politically and harmful to the creation of a world market by free trade,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL national director.

The American Jewish Committee called the decision “a major breakthrough in efforts to promote free and open trade between Japan and Israel.”

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