Jews Debate Value of Anti-boycott Provisions in Upcoming Gatt Bill

As Congress gears up for the battle over the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, Jewish activists are debating the effect little-known provisions of the free-trade agreement will have on the Arab boycott of Israel.

Legislators have attempted to use GATT as an instrument to get the Arab League to abolish its boycott of Israel.

In July, the House Ways and Means Committee approved an amendment to GATT implementation legislation recommending that the World Trade Organization prohibit any countries who adhere to or impose any boycott from joining.

Although the amendment does not mention the Arab League’s boycott of Israel specifically, it was clearly aimed at that.

Congress is poised to consider the GATT treaty during a special lame-duck session next week.

But Jewish observers are divided over the effect such language in GATT will have on the boycott, and whether it is even worth the effort.

Some say the language is too general to affect the Arab boycott, which is, by all accounts, winding down. Others say the language, however general, could act as a check on Arab countries who say they renounce the boycott but nonetheless continue to enforce it.

“You shouldn’t waste any time on (boycott language) in GATT,” said Will Maslow, who edited the now-defunct Boycott Report for the American Jewish Congress.

The amendment is not only too general, but also too difficult to enforce, Maslow said.

“GATT is not an organization that you can get any action on the boycott from. Nobody’s bothering to enforce (the regulations in GATT). There are more direct routes (to deal with) the Arab boycott,” he said.

Maslow said he believes the boycott is on its last legs, anyway. In September, the Gulf Cooperative Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, terminated the secondary and tertiary boycotts of Israel.

Maslow noted that some American and European companies that did not do business in Israel, like General Motors and Intel, are now opening plants there.

“All these are very good signs for the end of the boycott,” Maslow said.

Although the boycott seems to be ending, some argue the language in GATT banning countries involved in the boycott is still worth having.

The GATT language reaffirms that the Arab boycott is a global trade issue, said Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), co-chairman of the Congressional Task Force to End the Arab Boycott.

“For those countries who are wavering on their support of the Arab boycott, GATT gives them an excuse to end their boycott activity,” he said.

While countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have given assurances that they no longer adhere to the boycott, American companies still receive requests for boycott information from those countries, said Stacy Burdette, assistant director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington office.

“Until we see requests for boycott information stop reaching U.S. (companies), we need these mechanisms in place; and until the policy directives of Arab leaders trickle down to the businessman, we need these mechanisms in place,” Burdette said. U.S. law prohibits American companies from complying with requests from Arab boycott authorities.

Burdette pointed out that the Office of Anti-Boycott Compliance reported a sharp increase in the number of boycott requests from Saudi businesses.

She warned that it was too soon, statistically, to see what effect the Gulf Cooperative Council’s recent statement against tertiary and secondary boycotts will have.

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