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Some Arab States Sending Signals They Are Prepared to Ease Boycott

May 9, 1991
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There are now strong indications that key Arab states may be ready to ease the 43-year-old economic boycott of Israel and of foreign firms doing business with the Jewish state, according to well-placed Israeli trade officials.

A senior official at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry confirmed reports from Kuwait that the country is edging away from the boycott and is urging other Persian Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, to review their positions.

“There are a great many indications of late that the Arab boycott has indeed weakened,” said Zohar Perry, head of the ministry’s overseas trade division.

Reuters news agency quoted a ranking Kuwaiti official as saying in effect that it is Kuwait’s political duty toward the United States, in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, to reexamine its position on the boycott.

Another Kuwaiti official told the news agency that “Israel is a fact of life” and that Iraq had committed far worse human rights abuses during its occupation of Kuwait than what the Israelis do to the Palestinians.

Another sign that the Arabs are easing boycott pressure came from the Israeli commercial attache in Tokyo, Max Livnat.

Livnat told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz that he is suddenly inundated with inquiries from Japanese firms seeking information about potential markets for their products in Israel.

Japan’s long compliance with Arab boycott demands has been attributed to its heavy dependence on Middle East oil.

The ice began to break, according to Livnat, when Toyota Motor Corp., Japan’s largest manufacturer of cars and trucks, announced last month that it would soon begin selling its vehicles in Israel.


Nissan Motor Corp. has also indicated it is ready to start selling cars to Israel, though no formal announcement has been made.

A company spokesman reached Wednesday in Los Angeles said the exports would probably begin “within this calendar year.”

But other Japanese auto firms were blasted here this week for their continued compliance with the Arab League boycott.

“Japanese firms cannot demand free trade in the West and get away with boycotting Israel,” Israel Singer, secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress said at the organization’s ninth plenary assembly here Monday.

“Jews are buying their cars, and these companies are getting rich. If they don’t treat (Israel) properly, we are going to find American-made cars that cost less,” he said.

“This is not a boycott, it is free trade,” he added.

Japanese firms have also maintained they are not engaging in a boycott of Israel.

“Our stance has always been that it was an economic decision,” Don Spetner, the Nissan spokesman in Los Angeles, said Wednesday, adding: “Israel’s not a huge market.”

(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondent Charles Hoffman in Jerusalem and JTA staff writer Aliza Marcus in New York.)

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