Friday, April 24, 2015

Congress Votes Against European Boycotts of Israeli Settlements

Posted: Updated: Comment
WASHINGTON -- On Wednesday evening, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously voted in favor of an amendment to discourage European participation in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
Launched in 2005 by Palestinian activists, the BDS movement is a worldwide effort to cease business with Israel in protest of its occupation of the Palestinian territories. But while individuals in European countries may elect to participate in the movement, there is no institutional E.U. policy to boycott, sanction or divest from Israel proper.
The amendment, which was tacked onto a larger piece of trade legislation that establishes Congressional trade objectives, is intended to apply specifically to an emerging free trade agreement between the U.S. and Europe.
While the language of the amendment does not directly specify punitive action toward countries that boycott Israel, the implication is that U.S.-E.U. free trade relations are conditional upon European countries abstaining from the BDS movement.
The senate committee's amendment specifically targets an E.U. decision to cut economic support for Israeli settlements. In 2013, the European body submitted policy guidelines that required any Israeli entity seeking economic cooperation or funding from the E.U. to file a declaration asserting it is not linked to the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.
It is unclear if lawmakers who voted in favor of the amendment oppose E.U. policy of withholding funding for the settlements, or if they are simply unaware of the narrow scope of the policy.
Its guidelines came on the heels of a major trade deal between the E.U. and Israel, which was widely criticized by the BDS movement. In 2014, the E.U. reported record-high levels of imports of Israeli goods.
Last week, several E.U. nations stepped up efforts to limit economic ties to Israeli settlements. In a letter to E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, the foreign ministers of 16 of 28 member states called for goods produced in Israeli settlements to be distinctly labeled. “European consumers must indeed have confidence in knowing the origin of goods they are purchasing,” the letter read. Even if the effort to distinguish settlement-produced goods proves successful, it would not come with an accompanying ban on E.U. citizens purchasing these products.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been working with members of Congress since at least last year to draft legislation that would discourage Europe from continuing these policies.

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