While relentlessly pursuing a nuclear deal that will greatly endanger Israel’s security, President Barack Obama has more quietly aligned the United States with growing global efforts to undermine the Jewish State’s legitimacy.
As the State Department has announced, the administration will not enforce provisions of the “fast-track” trade bill that Obama signed into law requiring U.S. trade negotiators to discourage governments seeking trade agreements with the United States from boycotting Israeli products, divesting from companies that invest in Israel or imposing sanctions on Israel. In April, the House and Senate both voted unanimously to insert these provisions into the fast-track bill – a bill which Obama sought to give him more flexibility to negotiate trade deals with other nations.
Through these provisions, the United States includes among its “principal trade negotiating objectives” to “discourage actions by potential trade partners” that impair U.S.-Israeli commercial activity; to “discourage politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel” and eliminate “politically motivated” barriers on Israeli goods, services and other commerce; and to “seek the elimination of state-sponsored unsanctioned foreign boycotts against Israel” by prospective trading partners. Also under these provisions, no U.S. court can recognize or enforce a foreign judgment against any American for conducting business in Israel or Israeli-controlled territories.
The provisions are designed to combat the 10-year-old Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel – the brainchild of Palestinian activists, which a growing number of anti-Israeli advocates are aggressively pushing throughout Europe and across U.S. college campuses. That the European Union hopes to complete a free trade agreement with the United States makes these provisions ever more timely.
But the administration won’t enforce them, State Department spokesman John Kirby explained in a statement, because by covering both Israel and the “Israeli-controlled territories,” these provisions contradict “longstanding U.S. policy towards the occupied territories, including with regard to settlement activity.” “The U.S. government,” Kirby added, “has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them and, by extension, does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them.”
In other words, Kirby argues that by enforcing these provisions, the United States would equate Israeli-controlled territories with Israel itself, giving Israeli control over the territories, a status it doesn’t deserve. Separate from the question of whether a president can ignore provisions of law with which he disagrees – especially in the face of unanimous congressional votes – the administration’s reasoning is absurd.
First, the administration mischaracterizes the history of U.S. policy, according to a Washington Post piece that Northwestern University School of Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich wrote in response to Kirby. Presidents Reagan and the second Bush expressed support for Israeli settlements, and U.S. laws “have long applied the same economic treatment to all areas under Israeli jurisdiction.” Besides, any reasonable proponent of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict acknowledges that a final agreement would reflect sizeable land swaps between the two sides through which Israel would take permanent possession of major Jewish settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Second and more important, the administration ignores the larger purpose driving key BDS leaders, which is to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state. So, in a sense, by refusing to enforce the trade bill provisions designed to combat BDS, the administration is putting America on the side of BDS itself.
That’s not to say every BDS supporter would eliminate Israel. Many supporters, including many Jewish college students, say they support BDS as a way to pressure Israel to negotiate a two-state solution or, failing that, to ease its restraints on Palestinian movement in the territories.
What’s true of well-meaning if naïve college students, however, isn’t necessarily true of BDS’ leaders. More typical of BDS’ leaders is Omar Barghouti, a movement founder, who has long opposed the two-state solution and expressed support for, as he put it in one interview, the “unitary, secular, democratic state solution.” In essence, Barghouti and other BDS leaders nourish global support for boycotts, divestment and sanctions to undermine the legitimacy of a majority Jewish state.
More broadly, Western support for BDS reflects an outsized focus on Israeli imperfections while true humanitarian horror – Bashar al-Assad’s slaughter of innocents in Syria, human rights repression across the Arab word, political crackdowns in China, Russia, Turkey and so on – receives far less attention.
The administration’s decision not to enforce the trade bill’s anti-BDS provisions provides high-level support for an insidious campaign that seeks to undermine Israel’s legitimacy as the historic homeland of the Jewish people. That the United States would treat its closest ally in the turbulent Middle East this way boggles the mind.
Lawrence J. Haas, former communications director for Vice President Al Gore, is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.