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Aj Congress Sues Commerce Secretary

September 23, 1975
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The American Jewish Congress today filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act to require the Department of Commerce to make public the names of American companies involved in the Arab boycott of Jewish business interests or companies that trade with Israel. Secretary of Commerce Rogers Morton and Rauer H. Meyer, director of the Department’s Office of Export Administration, were named as defendants in papers filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. On Sept. 10, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith filed a similar suit in New York.

The AJ Congress action seeks an injunction to bar the federal officials from withholding their files on U.S. firms that are asked to comply with the Arab boycott. The suit also asks for a declaratory judgment “that such withholding is not authorized by law.” The suit was brought after the AJCongress had exhausted its efforts to obtain the material from the Commerce Department.

Last week, in a letter to the AJCongress, Morton rejected the organization’s appeal from an earlier ruling by Meyer refusing to make the information available. In his letter, dated Sept. 17, Morton said that reports on Arab boycott requests filed with the Commerce Department by American companies under the Export Administration Act of 1965 were “confidential” unless he judged that withholding them was “contrary to the national interest.”

Asserting that he was “unable to conclude that withholding of the material you have requested would be contrary to national interest,” Morton wrote that disclosing the identity of such firms “might reveal to their trade competitors valuable intelligence” and could expose them “to obvious countermeasures and pressure by various individuals and groups.”

Morton said that making public such information would not “serve a constructive purpose or contribute to the national welfare” and that “disclosure…would be of great potential damage to the small exporting companies now developing their trade in Middle Eastern markets and gaining a toehold in this highly competitive region.”


In a statement responding to Morton’s letter Howard M. Squadron of New York, chairman of the AJ Congress Governing Council and one of three individual plaintiffs in the suit, charged that Morton’s “sole interest seems to be in protecting American companies from whatever adverse effects may flow from their unwillingness to comply with the legislated policy of the United States.”

Continuing, Squadron stated: “Secretary Morton’s announced intention of retaining a shield of confidentiality around firms acquiescing in the Arab boycott–or those which, in violation of law have failed to file reports–is in direct conflict with the declared public policy of this country….Accordingly, the American Jewish Congress and its members have been urging exporters and other business concerns to refuse to comply with the boycott. This activity is in the national interest because it carries out a nationally declared policy.”

The two other individual plaintiffs in the suit are Theodore R. Mann of Philadelphia, cochairman of the AJ Congress’ Governing Council and Naomi Levine of New York, executive director of the AJ Congress. All the individual plaintiffs are lawyers. The complaint was filed in behalf of the AJ Congress by Joel H. Levy of Washington. The American Jewish Congress announced last May 27 that it would file suit against the Department of Commerce if its request for the names of companies asked to comply with the Arab boycott was rejected. The legal action announced today is the final step in the process initiated at that time.

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