The increasingly vocal activity of the international BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement against Israel has triggered, like a conditioned reflex, a counter-campaign by friends of Israel in the US. This is not just a matter of Jewish initiatives, such as the brainstorming gathering held by business tycoons Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban in Las Vegas yesterday to formulate strategies against BDS, but also of significant legislative initiatives both at the federal level on Capitol Hill and at the level of state legislatures.
The bottom line of these initiatives is the boycotting of those who boycott Israel. Their message to the BDS movement and to European companies that might cooperate with it is: If you boycott Israel, the US will boycott you. If, for example, Orange S.A. (formerly France Télécom S.A.) decides to cut ties with Israeli company Partner Communications Ltd. (Nasdaq: PTNR; TASE: PTNR), which uses the Orange brand, it will be barred from the US market, under a legislative initiative now before the US Congress. Such a bar would of course be a severe blow for any global company.
But legislators at the state level in the US have moved faster than their Washington DC colleagues. On Thursday, South Carolina became the first state in the US to adopt a law to frustrate boycotts of Israel and disinvestment from it. The law does not name Israel explicitly, but it forbids public bodies in the state from entering into contractual obligations with businesses that are involved in or that support a boycott of a country with which South Carolina has commercial relations. Israel is such a country.
Representative Alan Clemmons, who sponsored law H. 3583, said, "H. 3583protects South Carolina's government and funds from contractually being party to race, color, religion, gender, or national-origin based discrimination. Discrimination is ugly, it is contrary to the values of South Carolinians, and we wish to have no part in such morally repugnant practices.
"Discriminatory boycotts have historically been used as a form of economic warfare to forward the purposes of hatred and bigotry. The tactics employed by the Nazis serve as a poignant example. In this day and age, no group better demonstrates this fact than the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in its effort to harm our great ally, Israel... The passage of H. 3583 is a seminal event in the fight against national-origin discrimination against Israel. South Carolina has now become the first of what will undoubtedly be many states to enact legislation that confronts BDS."
In the state of Illinois, both the House of Representatives and the Senate unanimously passed a similar law that the state governor is expected to sign shortly. Legislation against boycotters of Israel will be voted on this year in eighteen more states in the US.
The most comprehensive legislation against the BDS movement, however, will be voted on in the coming weeks on Capitol Hill. It is directed not only against companies that seek to cut business ties with Israel, but also against companies that refuse to do business with settlements on the West Bank or with businesses located in such settlements, even though all US federal administrations, Democrat and Republican alike, have defined the settlements as illegal. The promoters of this bill, which has won bi-partisan support, have managed to attach it to a critical piece of legislation, the Trade Protection Authority, which is meant to define the national goals of the US in future negotiations on a free trade agreement with the European Union. This means that one of the objectives that will guide the US in negotiations with the EU will be the demand that boycotts or other sanctions against Israel should be banned.
Representative Peter Roskam, who is one of the sponsors of the anti-BDS legislation, attacked Orange S.A. for the remarks made in Egypt last week by its CEO Stephane Richard to the effect that his company would seek to sever its ties with Israel as soon as possible. “This outrageous move by Orange unfortunately represents a broader, insidious campaign within Europe and beyond to delegitimize and economically isolate Israel. The Orange CEO’s claim that these actions are not ‘political’ is shamelessly flimsy. Cutting off economic ties with an Israeli company in political protest will only advance the cause of hatred and intolerance. It certainly won’t help achieve peace in the region, and it moves the global economy in a dangerous and unproductive direction. I urge the French Government to denounce this economic attack with haste. The United States will continue to stand with our ally Israel and oppose the growing global BDS campaign. Congress can help by quickly passing bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority legislation currently pending, which includes a critical negotiating objective for future trade agreements that would push our European partners to reject the BDS movement.”
Richard has since backtracked and said that Orange is not seeking to withdraw from Israel.
In an article published in the "Wall Street Journal" in late May, Roskam cited examples of European companies that had taken discriminatory action against Israel, including severing ties with Israeli banks because of their activity on the West Bank, and wrote, "European Union discrimination against Israel could also jeopardize an otherwise strong commercial relationship with the U.S. If the BDS campaign continues to grow, American companies heavily invested in Israelsuch as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Intelcould find themselves entangled in legal battles. In many instances these companies’ business ties with Israel anchor their global presence and strengthen the U.S. economy, including by directly supporting thousands of U.S. jobs."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 7, 2015
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