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New Congressional Legislation Aimed at Countering BDS

Kenneth Liebowitz, The Brandeis Blog

June 10, 2015

The vote on the Trade Promotion Authority bill (“TPA”) is still up in the air. Having already passed through the Senate, the House will vote on the bill in the coming weeks. Hill Republicans and President Obama support the “fast track” legislation, which would help finalize a major Pacific trade accord with the Pacific rim. Democrats are torn between supporting the President’s quest for a historic Pacific Rim trade deal and their allegiance to traditional party backers like labor unions, who oppose the bill.

The legislation would give Congress the ability to vote for or against — but not amend or filibuster — major international trade agreements negotiated by the White House. It’s known as “fast track” authority because it is designed to speed up and boost the likelihood of the U.S. approving free trade agreements with other countries. Included in the legislation’s priorities is an amendment which would instruct U.S. negotiators to discourage U.S. prospective European trade partners from participating in boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

In a concurrent effort to oppose the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (“BDS Movement”) against Israel, Representatives Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Juan Vargas (D-CA) introduced the Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act, which aims to counter economic discrimination against Israel.

In doing so, it would establish a clear U.S. policy of opposing BDS as detrimental to global trade, regional peace, and stability and also set a new and principled bar against attempts to boycott Israel. The bill would also help to monitor BDS-related activities by requiring foreign companies traded on U.S. stock exchanges to disclose whether they have participated in, or have faced pressure to participate in, acts of economic discrimination against Israel.

The infiltration of the BDS movement into foreign governments, banks, and other entities has been precipitous in recent years. Over the past two years, major European banks and financial firms—including Denmark’s Dankse Bank, Sweden’s Nordea Bank, and Dutch pension fund PGGM—have allegedly blacklisted various Israeli banks because they operate in the West Bank.

In 2013, the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry advised the Netherland’s largest drinking water supplier, Vitens, to terminate its contract with Israeli water giant Mekorot, alleging that its mere presence in the West Bank violated international law. Ironically, the move came a day after Israel, and Mekorot specifically, announced a trilateral water agreement to help both Jordan and the Palestinian Authority meet their water needs.

Such boycotts of and divestments from Israel, propelled by the BDS movement, not only threaten the economic integrity of Israel, but also contradict the economic interests of the United States. Preserving Israel’s economic stability by combating the BDS movement, through both the TPA bill and the Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act, is a strategic imperative for the U.S. and an educated and necessary step forward in combating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

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Catherine Chatterley
Dr. Catherine Chatterley is the Founding Director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA) and Editor-In Chief of its new periodical, Antisemitism Studies, published by Indiana University Press.
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