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House committee endorses making U.S. anti-boycott law permanent

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee approved a bill that would make permanent the ban against participation in the Arab League boycott of Israel.

The bill, attached as an amendment to the State Department funding bill, passed Thursday in committee, said its sponsor, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the committee’s senior Democrat.

The original law banning participation in the boycott, passed in 1977, lapsed in 1994 and has been extended since then by executive order. That has left the order vulnerable to court challenges over the years, Berman told JTA.

Should the new bill pass the full house and then the Senate, Berman said, "We’re on sounder footing, we codify the higher penalties, and we make it permanent. We don’t have to worry about about a court challenge."

Berman, who as a state legislator in California authored one of the first anti-boycott laws in 1976, said his timing had nothing to do with a controversial bill just passed in Israel that allows for civil penaltis against those who advocate boycotts of Israel or its West Bank settlements.

Berman said he had not yet closely examined the Israeli law and had questions about it, but noted that his law only addresses attempts by Arab nations and their proxies to coerce boycott compliance.

"No one disputes an individual’s right not to do business with Israel," he said.

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