WASHINGTON (JTA) — Key congressional committees approved amendments to a major trade act that would require U.S. negotiators to discourage trading partners from boycotting Israel or Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The amendments, authored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) were unanimously approved Wednesday by the Senate Finance Committee and Thursday by the House Ways and Means Committee.
They were attached to this year’s Trade Promotion Authority bill, which helps to shape objectives in trade pact talks between the United States and other countries. The so-called BDS movement supports boycotts, divestment and sanctions targeting Israel.
Specifying the ongoing Transatlantic and Trade and Investment Partnership talks with European nations, the amendment describes as a “principle negotiating objective” to “discourage politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel” and to seek the removal of existing barriers to trade with Israel.
It includes in its definition of boycotts those that target “Israel or persons doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories.”
Including the West Bank could complicate negotiations; the European Union and a number of European countries discourage boycotts of Israel, but also regulate trade with settlements in the West Bank.
“We may not agree with every Israeli policy, but we cannot allow our potential trading partners in the E.U. to fall prey to efforts that threaten Israel’s existence,” Cardin said in a joint statement with Roskam and Portman praising the committees for passing the amendments.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee praised passage of the amendments, which it had made a lobbying priority.
“AIPAC applauds the important steps that Congress has taken this week to defend Israel against pernicious economic efforts by foreign governments that unfairly single out and boycott our ally,” it said.
J Street and Americans for Peace Now decried the amendments. Each group noted its opposition to broader boycotts of Israel but said the language banning restrictions on trade with settlements was counterproductive.
“These efforts by AIPAC and some in Congress will not insulate Israel from pressure over settlements,” Americans for Peace Now said. “Rather, they will only put the U.S., along with Israel, further out of step with virtually the entire international community, including close allies of both the U.S. and Israel who are out of patience with Israeli governments who give lip-service to the two-state solution while forging ahead with actions on the ground that disclose a Greater Israel agenda.”