In response to United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) efforts to undermine Israel’s legitimacy through their Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Act of 2017, the U.S. Congress and Senate have introduced a bipartisan bill, the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act,” that would protect U.S. companies targeted by the international boycotts and punish those who comply with them.
Earlier this March, the UNHRC voted in favor (32 nations in favor and 15 abstentions) of the BDS Act of 2017, which entails creating a “blacklist” of companies enabling or benefitting from the growth of Israeli settlements. Blacklisted companies under the BDS Act of 2017, the full list of which will be published this December, include major American corporations like Coca-Cola, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Airbnb, and TripAdvisor.
The UN blacklist treads in the footsteps of the broader BDS movement, which was established in 2005 in an attempt to economically undermine Israel’s sovereignty. The stated goal of the BDS movement, according to its founders, is to “end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.”
In response to the UN’s blacklist, Representative Peter J. Roskam (R-IL) and Senators Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (H.R. 1697 and S.720). The US Act has seen overwhelming support, with 49 senators and 253 House members co-sponsoring it to date. The bill was initiated in the context of a strong U.S.-Israel alliance celebrating the U.S. government’s proud history of protecting the Jewish State from economic warfare.
The U.S. Israel Anti-Boycott Act would bolster the 40-year-old American policy of challenging boycotts against its allies and highlight U.S. support for Israel as its strongest ally in the Middle East. In the past, Congress has successfully tackled foreign boycotts against Israel. In 2015, former U.S. President Barack Obama passed the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which instructed American negotiators to take an anti-BDS position in ongoing free trade negotiations with the EU.
The Israel Anti-Boycott Act also underscores the importance of direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, as the unilateral adoption of the UN blacklist could further destabilize any attempts to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiations for direct peace negotiations.
In practice, the pro-Israel bill would apply existing U.S. anti-boycott laws to international organizations like the UN and European Union, which often single out American companies doing business in Judea and Samaria, hoping to pressure them into boycotting Israel.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, criticized the United Nations support for the BDS Act of 2017, saying, “Blacklisting companies without even looking at their employment practices or their contributions to local empowerment, but rather based entirely on their location in areas of conflict, is contrary to the laws of international trade and to any reasonable definition of human rights.
“It is an attempt to provide an international stamp of approval to the anti-Semitic BDS movement. It must be rejected.”
Many consider the BDS movement to be anti-Semitic because it holds Israel, as the sole Jewish state, to a different standard than other countries. While human rights violations run rampant in Syria, North Korea, Yemen, Russia, Sudan, and Iran, the UN singles out Israel as the greatest violator of health rights, Palestinian sites, women’s rights, Middle Eastern peace, and human rights.
Israeli ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Eviatar Manor, calls the HRC “obsessive compulsive” on Israel, as the international organization lambasts Israel while it overlooks abuses against millions worldwide.
Economic warfare against Israel is not new for the UNHRC. This past spring, the UNHCR voted on 41 resolutions, 12 of which dealt with human rights violations around the world, and five of which were focused on Israel. One of the resolutions passed mandated a boycott of Israeli settlements and called upon members to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”
If American companies were to comply with the UN’s BDS Act of 2017 by boycotting firms on the blacklist, they could risk harming Israelis, Palestinians, and even their own domestic economy. In 2015, over 500 Palestinian workers were left unemployed after the SodaStream factory was relocated from the West Bank to southern Israel because of pressure from the BDS movement.
Last year, Israel was the United States’ 22nd largest trade partner, trading over $40 billion annually. According to Aaron Menenbeg of The Tower, out of the twenty countries with which the U.S. has trade agreements, Israel is the eighth-largest supporter of American jobs and Israeli exports generate the highest amount of export dollars per job. If American companies were to adopt the UN blacklist, the robust U.S.-Israel economic ties would be risked, undermining the American economy at large.
If the Israel Anti-Boycott Act passes in the U.S. Senate and House, it will then be sent to the U.S. president to be enacted into law.