U.S. Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) introduced legislation Feb. 10 which aims to hold foreign trade partners of the United States that pursue boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) policies toward Israel accountable.
The bill aims to use current free trade negotiations between the United States and the European Union as leverage. It includes disincentives against nation states and multinational corporations listed on American stock exchanges that are actively involved, or considering to become involved, in boycotts against Israel.
The bill, titled the United States-Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act, specifically takes aim at European Union members which have seen increases in BDS actions and support. Although BDS has not been codified into these nations’ laws, BDS opponents fear such a reality might not be far off.
The EU is involved in negotiations with the United States for a new free trade agreement called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The bill’s sponsors hope to compel the administration to make disavowal of BDS a prerequisite for participation.
“Today, an alarming number of countries within the European Union and beyond have embraced BDS as a form of economic warfare aimed to cripple Israel’s economy and demonize its very existence,” Roskam said in a statement. “These attacks not only threaten Israel, but commercial relations across the globe. The U.S-Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act will ensure that American free trade partners never engage in this harmful and illegitimate political protest against Israel, while also protecting U.S. companies from foreign lawsuits targeting their associations with Israel.”
The bill is divided in to four sections. First, the bill asserts that free trade policies should contain anti-BDS provisions.
Second, it reaffirms America’s close alliance with Israel and opposition to the BDS movement.
Third, the bill outlines mechanisms for the executive branch to establish that would require it to report to Congress about BDS action among America’s current and future free trade partners. This section contains two reporting requirements. One requires administration officials to submit regular reports to Congress about their efforts to discourage BDS. The second requires multinational corporations that are traded in the United States to report if they participate in a boycott and whether they had been pressured to participate in a boycott of Israel.
The fourth section relates to foreign judgments against companies not participating in BDS, such as if a European court decides negatively against a company conducting business with Israel, American courts would be required to ignore the foreign court’s decision if an American company is implicated in the foreign court’s verdict.
The legislation came with a letter of endorsement by former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, whose 2013 op-ed in Politico inspired the bill. He called for congressional action against BDS and was regularly consulted by the bill’s authors.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, praised the bill, adding that such legislation was long overdue.
“I think it’s clear to friend and foe alike that the BDS movement is not designed in any way, shape or form to help a single Palestinian. It never has, it never will,” said Cooper. “It’s not designed to bring peace, even though in some of the early rhetoric, they said this was a matter of encouraging Israel to come to the peace table. It’s utter rubbish, total nonsense. The BDS movement as it is structured is there to weaken, demonize and ultimately if they could, get rid of the Jewish state.”
According to Cooper, most of the action surrounding BDS has so far been relegated to votes and civil disobedience by academia, trade unions and some churches. While anti-BDS groups have been actively fighting against these actions, until now, little has been done to discourage governments and corporations.
For Cooper, what stands out in the bill is that it “communicates to companies and governments that if you cross that line into embracing boycott, you’re going to face some economic and perhaps some legal consequences. And it’s long overdue. And I think it’s the proper focus,” he said. “I think it’s a really good idea for the folks who are involved in commerce and geopolitical decisions to take a deep breath and not to drink the [BDS] Kool-Aid, because there could be a price to pay.”