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When President Bush's pick for commerce secretary, Carlos Gutierrez, faces confirmation hearings in the Senate, it's important that someone ask him about the support in American universities for the Arab boycott of Israel. The Commerce Department maintains an Office of Antiboycott Compliance to enforce the antiboycott provisions of the Export Administration Act, which prohibits Americans from acting "with the intent to comply with, further, or support any boycott fostered or imposed by a foreign country against a country which is friendly to the United States and which is not itself the object of any form of boycott pursuant to United States law or regulation."
In September, a bipartisan group of 13 congressmen -- led by James Saxton and Robert Andrews of New Jersey -- sent a letter to the acting director of the Office of Antiboycott Compliance, Edward Weant III, in respect of the anti-Israel boycott. "We are extremely concerned about the organized and collaborative divestment campaigns in the U.S. in support of a foreign boycott against our ally, Israel," the representatives wrote. "In addition to publishing factual distortions and outright falsehoods about Israel and the conflict in the Middle East, the divestment campaigns furnish information about U.S. companies that have business relationships in or with Israel, and specifically advocate that these companies be boycotted. This conduct is expressly prohibited by the antiboycott provisions of the Export Administration Act, which were enacted in response to congressional concern about the Arab boycott of Israel."
The congressmen -- along with the Zionist Organization of America, which initiated the letter -- urged Mr. Weant and the Commerce Department to investigate the national boycott campaign against Israel and end the divestment campaigns. But Commerce has taken no action. In a letter to the ZOA's president, Morton Klein, Mr. Weant wrote, "Unfortunately, because the Office is not aware of any evidence that the divestment activities identified in your letters have been or are being taken with intent to support a boycott imposed by a foreign country against Israel, the prohibitions of the antiboycott provisions of the EAR [Export Administration Regulations] do not apply."
Mr. Weant's response ignores reality. There is no doubt that the boycott of Israel is "fostered or imposed" by foreign countries. Last April, 19 Arab countries met at the 72nd conference of the Arab League's Bureau for Boycotting Israel, called for a revival of the boycott, and discussed blacklisting new companies that do business with the Jewish state. As the Office of Antiboycott Compliance notes on its Web site, "The Arab League boycott of Israel is the principal foreign economic boycott that U.S. companies must be concerned with today."
There is no doubt that American divestment campaigns, such as the Palestine Solidarity Movement, intend "to comply with, further, or support" the Arab boycott of Israel. As Mr. Klein noted in a letter to Commerce, "The Palestine Solidarity Movement disseminates information in support of the boycott on its website, in its literature and at its annual national anti-Israel conferences. University divestment websites likewise disseminate information in support of the foreign boycott." The congressmen noted in their letter to Mr. Weant, "Some of the university websites directly link to the Divest from Israel Campaign, which prominently features a call for an international economic campaign against Israel by Francis A. Boyle, a strategist and advisor to the Palestinian Authority."
Our antiboycott laws were adopted to prevent American institutions and individuals from being used to implement the foreign policies of other nations that run counter to American policy. Campaigns on American campuses aim to pressure their universities to further the Arab boycott of Israel, an American ally. This is the context in which the Commerce Department stands silent.
After Mr. Weant signaled his refusal to investigate the pro-boycott campaigns, Mr. Klein wrote back: "You may indeed come to the conclusion that the Palestine Solidarity Movement's activities and the nationwide college and university divestment campaign do not violate the antiboycott provisions. How you could possibly reach that conclusion, however, without even undertaking an investigation of all these activities and the persons promoting them is both incomprehensible and disturbing." Which is why is so important that when Mr. Gutierrez comes before the Commerce Committee -- whose members include Senators Mc-Cain and Lautenberg and the Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry -- someone asks him whether America's antiboycott laws are worth enforcing.
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