Kuwait Says It’ll Stop Boycotting Firms That Do Business with Israel

The Israeli government and American Jewish groups have lauded an announcement by Kuwait’s foreign minister that his country will no longer adhere to the “indirect” Arab boycott of companies that do business with Israel.

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah announced the policy change Tuesday in Kuwait, but said his country would continue to honor the primary Arab boycott, which bars doing business with Israeli companies or in Israel itself.

Nonetheless, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres hailed the news and said other Arab states should follow suit.

“I welcome it,” said Peres. “The time has come for all the countries to put an end to this ugly politics” by embracing open economic borders and free trade.

“Arabs should join the modern age like anybody else,” he said.

A statement issued later by Israel’s Foreign Ministry added that “peacemaking and an economic boycott are incompatible. Therefore, the Israeli government will continue to work for a region where the free flow of goods is the cornerstone of economic cooperation and development.”

In New York, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations welcomed Sabah’s announcement.

“Kuwait’s dropping of these economic barriers will help foster a climate of trust and confidence that will encourage progress in the peace negotiations,” the umbrella group said in a statement issued jointly by its chairman, Lester Pollack, and its executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein.

“We hope that ending the primary boycott of Israel and Israeli companies will soon follow,” the group said.

‘FIRST BREAK’ SINCE 1951

The U.S. ambassador to Kuwait, Edward Gnehm, had told the conference last week that the Kuwaiti government would be issuing new regulations and revising forms to remove boycottrelated questions.

The Kuwaiti announcement was also welcomed by the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council. Lawrence Rubin, the umbrella group’s executive vice chair, called on the “other members of the Arab League, particularly Saudi Arabia,” to “follow Kuwait’s example and announce an unequivocal termination of the secondary boycott.”

The American Jewish Congress, which publishes the newsletter “Boycott Report,” called the Kuwaiti move “the first break in the Arab League boycott against commercial firms since it was imposed in 1951.”

Robert Lifton, the group’s president, added, “We hope the 11 other countries still part of this secondary boycott will follow Kuwait’s example.”

The Anti-Defamation League was more wary in its statement. Abraham Foxman, the group’s national director, said, “We welcome this long-overdue Kuwaiti decision but remain cautious in light of past Kuwaiti pledges in this regard.”

Noting that Kuwait reportedly sent a representative to an Arab League boycott meeting in Damascus last month, Foxman said, “We hope that this time, Kuwait will translate word into deed.”

The Jewish groups all praised the Clinton administration for “aggressively pursuing the boycott issue,” as Rubin of NJCRAC put it.

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