Israel won a significant victory in Washington this month against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
President Barack Obama agreed to sign into law the compromise Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act after the Senate approved it on a 75-20 vote Thursday, Feb. 11, even though White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama opposes a provision of the legislation regarding Israel.
The measure “contravenes longstanding U.S. policy towards Israel and the occupied territories, including with regard to Israeli settlement activity,” Earnest said in a written statement.
In reality the provision merely treats all Israeli-produced goods the same, without regard to the 1949 Green Line, while encouraging enhanced commercial ties between the United States and Israel.
We could delve into arguments about the legal status of the West Bank and the illogic of treating a long-violated cease-fire line as an international border instead of the starting point for negotiations. But the key is the people, not the place: Israelis are Israelis, and the produce they grow and products they build are Israeli.
The new legislation puts the United States on the record against BDS and requires the administration to report on various global BDS activities, including which foreign companies are boycotting Israel, AIPAC said in a celebratory statement. The measure also instructs U.S. representatives to seek strong anti-BDS provisions in trade agreements with the European Union.
It was important to include territory under Israeli control as well as Israel proper in the trade bill because of increasing efforts to use settlements as a back door to boycott Israel.
Israel’s foes first create a distinction between Israelis on different sides of the Green Line even though they are legally the same. Products from Israelis east of the line then are labeled as not coming from Israel for the sole purpose of encouraging consumers to boycott those items.
Consumer boycotts make it easier for more formal BDS actions by businesses, institutions and even governments. And once Israelis living on the West Bank are subject to sanctions, it becomes ever easier to follow the money westward to ostracize all Israelis.
In theory, economic pressure could force Israel to the negotiating table, thus leading to a two-state solution with the Palestinians. But in fact any efforts to target Israelis with a boycott, even one with geographic limits, undermine peace prospects by encouraging Palestinian intransigence.
The goal of the BDS movement is not a negotiated two-state solution; the goal is the delegitimization of Israel and the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. Any action supportive of BDS moves away from two states; full rejection of BDS brings a peace settlement closer.
That’s why we hope Congress continues work on the logical companion to the anti-BDS trade legislation: a bill introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that would overturn ill-advised regulations on the labeling of products from the areas Israel captured in 1967. The Obama administration in January reiterated the rarely enforced, 20-year-old rules barring West Bank merchandise from being labeled as made in Israel.
We would like to see all references to Gaza dropped from Cotton’s bill, in recognition of the fact that no Israelis have lived there since 2005, but the legislation otherwise is simple and fair: The country of origin could be labeled as Israel or the West Bank.
The sooner we can settle such labeling spats, the sooner Israel and the Palestinians can get down to the real issues at hand.