Jewish Groups Have Mixed Reaction to G-7 Statement on the Middle East

A statement calling for an end of the Arab boycott of Israel, issued Thursday in Tokyo by the Group of Seven leading industrial countries, is being publicly hailed by Jewish groups.

Privately, however, officials with Jewish organizations complain that the United States was not able to live up to assurances about the scope and specificity of the declaration.

Eliminating the Arab boycott of Israel, and of companies that do business with the Jewish state, has become an increasing priority of Jewish organizations in recent months. The policy statement from this week’s summit of the G-7 nations had been the target of particular attention.

The summit’s political declaration, titled “Striving for a More Secure and Humane World,” addresses issues ranging from human rights and terrorism to the ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Regarding the Middle East, the statement says the G-7 nations “fully support the efforts to achieve a comprehensive, lasting peace settlement in the Middle East and call on Israel and the Arab states to take further steps for confidence-building.”

The statement continues: “We reiterate that the Arab boycott should end. We call on Israel to respect its obligations with regard to the occupied territories. We support the effort of reconstruction in Lebanon.”

‘AN IMPORTANT AND POSITIVE STEP’

Regarding the call to end the Arab boycott, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a statement praising it as “an important and positive step that, when implemented, will contribute to international free trade and foster Middle East peace.”

But officials with Jewish organizations expressed dismay over two elements of the statement: the juxtaposition of the boycott issue with a reference to Israel’s behavior in the territories, and the denunciation of the boycott in general, rather than specifically the secondary boycott.

It is the secondary boycott, which affects foreign companies that do business with Israel, that is seen as most damaging to Israel’s prospects for foreign investment, and as illegal. By contrast, the primary boycott of Israel by Arab states is seen under international law as a political issue, akin to the boycott of Cuban goods by the United States.

“By giving us too much, they gave us too little,” said an official with one Jewish organization. “The call for the end of the boycott is not a practical objective. The secondary boycott is something they can do something about.”

Jewish groups also expressed displeasure with the fact that the statement mentions Israeli conduct in the territories without any reference to Palestinian acts of violence.

“We believe this one-sided declaration, with its implied criticism of Israeli behavior, is counterproductive,” the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council said in a statement.

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