Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pro-Israel Groups Protest Japanese Business Boycott

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pro-Israel Groups Protest Japanese Business Boycott

Article excerpt

CORPORATIONS generally do not like to mix politics with business, but political issues were hard to suppress in Matsushita Electric Industrial Company's agreement last week to buy entertainment giant MCA Inc.

The $6.6 billion buyout, the largest Japanese purchase ever in the United States, raised concerns about the growing Japanese presence in Hollywood. The deal also shed light on another, less-publicized political issue: the participation of companies from Japan and other nations in a longstanding Arab boycott of Israel.

MCA Chairman Lew Wasserman is a prominent member of the US Jewish community and a significant donor to Jewish causes. Matsushita is among several leading Japanese companies that have no direct trade with Israel. The electronics giant instead sells an estimated $20 million annually of its Panasonic, JVC, Technics, and National brands in Israel through a New York-based agent.

Jewish activists, hoping to convince Matsushita to open direct links, aired their concerns to MCA representatives during the negotiations, but received no assurances.

"Matsushita has no special attitude toward any nation, and this won't change," company president Akio Tanii told reporters after the deal was finalized.

Activists claim that other large Japanese firms - Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, Toshiba, Canon, Hitachi - conduct no trade with Israel. They also point to a lack of Japanese investment in the country. Japan Air Lines is criticized for not flying to Israel, and Japanese ships for avoiding Israeli ports.

Yaacov Cohen, Israel's deputy director-general for economic affairs, recently called Japan "the worst offender" among industrial nations. Pro-Israel groups also fault South Korean, British, German, and Italian companies.

The boycott began in 1951 when the League of Arab States began blacklisting multinational companies that trade and invest in Israel. The intent is to make companies choose between Israel and the Arab world, and weaken Israel's economy. …

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