Arab Boycotts Are an Obstacle to Peace

By Alfred H. Moses. Alfred H. Moses, a. Washington attorney, is president of the American Jewish Committee. | The Christian Science Monitor, August 2, 1991 | Go to article overview

Arab Boycotts Are an Obstacle to Peace


Alfred H. Moses. Alfred H. Moses, a. Washington attorney, is president of the American Jewish Committee., The Christian Science Monitor


THE Arab boycott began before the creation of the State of Israel and has from the outset been both anti-Jewish and anti-Israel. In 1945, following the defeat of the Nazi powers, the Arab League announced that "Jewish products and manufactured goods shall be considered undesirable to Arab countries." As subsequently applied to Israel, the boycott has been touted in the Arab world as an economic weapon to be used in wiping Israel off the map.

In its application, the Arab boycott has gone far beyond the internationally recognized right of sovereign states to boycott other sovereign states by not engaging in direct commerce. This is the primary boycott, but the Arab nations boycotting Israel have tried to force companies in other countries to refrain from dealing with Israel (secondary boycott) and even from dealing with other companies that are on the boycott list (tertiary boycott). As a result, thousands of United States companies are on the Arab boycott list.

For many years the major trading nations of the world, including the US, did nothing to combat the boycott other than give polite lip service to the principle of free trade. This was largely out of fear of the Arab oil weapon. During the Ford administration, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Treasury Secretary William Simon were vocal in opposing legislation prohibiting US companies from participating in the boycott, from fear that this would damage our country's political and economic ties to the Arab oil-producing states. But in 1977 Congress passed the anti-boycott amendments to the Export Administration Act, making it illegal for US companies to participate in secondary and tertiary boycotts "against a country friendly to the US or against any US person" (read Jews).

As one who participated in discussions on the anti-boycott legislation between business and Jewish community leaders, I well remember the dire predictions of Arab retaliation against American interests. Yet the Arab oil producers kept selling their oil to American companies, filling their coffers with US dollars.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf nations looked increasingly to the US for protection from Soviet-inspired instability in the region, especially after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Regrettably, with very few exceptions such as the Netherlands, the world's other major trading countries have remained largely on the sidelines, tut-tutting about the boycott's continued interference with the principles of free trade but unwilling to confront the boycott head-on for fear of damaging their markets in the Arab world. …

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