Eight days after a meeting on a potential free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union last month, two congressmen introduced a bill to influence the process and help prevent economic discrimination against Israel. Called the “U.S.-Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act” the bill is an effort to counter the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement (BDS), which is lamentably popular in Europe.
The bill’s primary sponsors, Illinois’s Peter Roskam, a Republican, and California’s Juan Vargas, a Democrat, proposed the legislation as a “targeted approach” to counter BDS activity where most of it occurs – the EU. So far, 24 congressmen have co-sponsored the legislation.
After having conversations with Israeli companies and business leaders, Roskam became concerned that BDS activity could seriously affect Israel’s economy. As such, the bill would require the president to submit a report to Congress within six months after enactment, and annually thereafter. The report would require the administration to present “specific steps being taken by the United States to encourage foreign countries and international organizations to cease creating such barriers and to dismantle measures already in place.” According to Roskam’s office, as per congressionally mandated reporting requirements, it would be at the discretion of the administration to determine what constitutes companies being encouraged to join the boycott. Any boycott activity by an EU company that is part of the US stock exchanges would have to be reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
If the bill passes, some expect it to exacerbate trade tensions between the U.S. and EU -- which is sort of its point. Larry Solomon, a Financial Post columnist, said in an email, “This bill is making the anti-Israel crowd apoplectic and for good reason -- it will help expose their funding. Although the BDS movement portrays itself as grass-roots, in fact it is largely funded by EU institutions. If this bill passes and succeeds in erecting a wall between EU funding institutions and the BDS NGOs, the BDS movement would soon be starved of funds and dissipate.”
The BDS movement does not only affect the geopolitical arena, it’s also the source of battles fought daily on college campuses across America. Daniel Mael, a Brandeis University student and pro-Israel activist, said in an email, "As thousands of college students battle BDS on college campuses it [is] reassuring to see members of Congress make a similar effort. One must recognize that everyone wins if the BDS movement is thwarted… The goal in the long-run should be to not only outlast BDS, but to continue to promote Israel's case in an unwavering fashion despite the legions of activists seeking its ultimate destruction.”
Adam Reuter, the chairman of two Israeli financial companies, says, “It is especially important that the U.S. will help us versus European institutions … some of them are threatening us with all kinds of academic and economic boycotts. These kind of intentions are definitely hurting relationships between Israel and Europe.” According to Reuter, the continued existence of BDS in the EU is the fault of European institutions, not just anti-Israel agitators. Reuter also observes that Israel imports more from Europe than it exports to the continent.
Though known as an economic protest, BDS also has psychological propaganda. Human Rights attorney and Lawfare Project director Brooke Goldstein said BDS is a “modern form of Jew-hatred and should be addressed by legislation,” though the next step would be to concentrate on domestic boycotts of Israel. Pro-Israel activist Chloe Valdary said that, as of today “BDS is much more of an ideological, symbolic weapon than an economic one… Such weapons have the potential to affect public policy if anti-Israel sentiment becomes trendy and acceptable in the popular sphere. If it does, the voting public can put pressure on lawmakers to actualize a symbolic sanction of Israel via legislation.”
In this economic and psychological battle, this bill has the potential to better impact trade relations between the U.S. and the EU.
Jackson Richman is an intern at The Weekly Standard.