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Nissan Says It Will Sell to Israel As Congress Steps Up Boycott Watch

May 3, 1991
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The Nissan Motor Co., one of Japan’s largest exporters of cars and trucks, has announced it will begin selling its vehicles in Israel by the end of the year.

Nissan’s move, following a similar one by Toyota, Japan’s largest automotive manufacturer, signals a break in Japan’s longtime deferral to Arab boycott pressures, attributed to its dependence on Middle East oil.

The announcement, made in the Japanese Times, said Nissan will ship 4,000 to 5,000 small cars to Israel, according to Will Maslow, general counsel of the American Jewish Congress and editor of its monthly Boycott Report.

Maslow quoted the Japanese-language newspaper as saying Nissan’s decision was due to the “widespread protest of American Jewish organizations” to the refusal of Japanese firms to sell cars in Israel.

While American Jewish groups have long campaigned against Japanese cooperation with the Arab economic boycott, the cause has most recently been taken up by members of Congress.

Only last month, nine key pro-Japan senators, led by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), sent a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, urging him to end boycott compliance by Japanese firms.

The opening of Israeli markets by two of Japan’s biggest industrial empires coincides with a groundswell of activity in Congress aimed at enforcing U.S. anti-boycott legislation.

About a half-dozen bills and resolutions dealing with the boycott are currently pending in Congress.


One, introduced Wednesday by Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), got a mixed reception from Jewish groups.

It would require the Commerce Department to “promptly” inform the Justice Department of violation by U.S. companies of the 14-year-old anti-boycott law.

Maslow called Schumer’s bill, the Illegal Boycott Prosecution Act of 1991, unnecessary because the transmittal requirement is “already on the books.”

The Commerce Department announced Feb. 27 that it had referred for possible criminal charges a case against Baxter International of Deerfield, III., the world’s largest hospital supply company.

The criminal charges may be based on allegations that Baxter sold an Israeli subsidiary to gain a contract with the Syrian army. If the charges are pressed, they would be the government’s first criminal prosecution for violating the anti-boycott law.

Other apparent infringements of the law have been settled with fines imposed by the Commerce Department.

Jess Hordes, Washington representative of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said the Schumer bill would focus needed attention on Commerce’s Office of Anti-boycott Compliance, raising questions about whether it is “operating efficiently.”

He and Maslow welcomed a 12-page report by Schumer on alleged deficiencies at the office, including a poor track record on bringing suits for possible violations.

The National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce opposes the Schumer bill outright. It “seeks to criminalize an area that is extremely technical,” said Cherif Sedky, the chamber’s chairman.


At the same time, he acknowledged that there is “not a huge staff” in the Commerce office, which he said currently has about 10 professional investigators.

Jewish groups are trying to arrange a meeting with Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher to plan a revised anti-boycott strategy.

ADL held an anti-boycott “strategy session” for House and Senate staff members Tuesday, Hordes said.

He said that more important than Schumer’s approach is to “find a way to get Arab countries to terminate the boycott.” In addition, efforts should be made to ensure that countries in Western Europe, Japan and South Korea do not comply with it, he said.

Other boycott bills pending in Congress include:

* A bill sponsored by Rep. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) that would require Mosbacher to report on anti-boycott efforts by countries belonging to GATT, the 99-nation General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade;

* A bill expected to be introduced next week by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) that would require U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills and U.S. envoys to raise the boycott issue at meetings of GATT and the 24-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development;

* A sense-of-the-Congress resolution urging the Arab League to terminate the boycott and other U.S. trading partners not to comply with the boycott;

* A resolution urging Arab countries to end their technical state of war against Israel and the boycott.

Hordes said that when the Jewish groups get a meeting with Mosbacher, they “want to make sure that there is an adequate number” of staffers and overall funding for the Commerce Department’s boycott office.

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