In rebuke to Israel, State Dep’t says it has no objection to BDS aimed at occupation

US Politics
on 38 Comments

In yet another sign that the American government is reassessing the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and that BDS is gaining traction, the State Department yesterday said that it did not oppose BDS, boycott, divestment and sanctions actions, aimed at the occupied Palestinian territories, because Israeli settlements “make it harder to negotiate a sustainable and equitable peace deal in good faith.”

The statement was a special clarification of White House policy on the new fast-track trade bill, which contained a provision that Congress had included at the urging of Israel lobby groups: to punish European companies and governments that support BDS of Israel– including Israeli activities in the occupied territories. The legislation purposely sought to protect settlements; and yesterday the Obama administration said it isn’t buying.

Liberal Zionists are enthused by the White House statement. J Street:

Attempt to block EU steps against Israeli settlements backfires as USG issues statement starkly refusing to legitimize settlement activity

Lara Friedman of Peace Now:

It’s very positive that the Obama administration has drawn a line in the sand, reiterating what has long been U.S. policy — policy that some groups are clearly trying to shift in favor of protecting settlements.

Chemi Shalev of Haaretz says Israel led the effort: 

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday punched a big hole in Israel-led efforts to induce the Obama administration to regard boycotts of settlements as identical to boycott of Israel proper… The boycott of settlements, in effect, has now been officially stamped “kosher” by the State Department.

Joseph Berman of JVP

Joseph Berman of JVP

Jewish Voice for Peace also celebrated the statement, having objected to the provision in the trade bill, but says that boycotting the settlements is not enough:

“That the State Department has, in effect, condoned boycott as a tactic to put pressure on Israel to halt its illegal settlement construction is an important step forward for the movement for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” stated Rabbi Joseph Berman, Jewish Voice for Peace’s Government Affairs Liaison. “However, it will take more than a condemnation of settlements to end Israel’s continued aggression and intransigence when it comes to Palestinian human rights. There is a growing grassroots movement to put nonviolent pressure on Israel to change its policies, and its time the United States takes responsibility for its role in providing financial and diplomatic support enables Israel to continue with impunity.”

AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby group, had supported the legislation. AIPAC is working against BDS:

Congress Elevates Protecting Israel from “BDS” to Key Trade Objective in Fast Track

I believe that Americans for Peace Now is on the executive committee of AIPAC (by virtue of membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations). Maybe they should quit over this issue?

Here is the full statement from the State Department’s John Kirby, posted by Matt Lee yesterday:

The United States has worked in the three decades since signing the US-Israel Free Trade Agreement – our first such agreement with any country – to grow trade and investment ties exponentially with Israel. The United States government has also strongly opposed boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions targeting the State of Israel, and will continue to do so.

However, by conflating Israel and “Israeli-controlled territories,” a provision of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation runs counter to longstanding US policy towards the occupied territories, including with regard to settlement activity. Every US administration since 1967 – Democrat and Republican alike – has opposed Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines. This administration is no different. The US government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them and, by extension, does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them.

Administrations of both parties have long recognized that settlement activity and efforts to change facts on the ground undermine the goal of a two-state solution to the conflict and only make it harder to negotiate a sustainable and equitable peace deal in good faith. As we advance our trade agenda, we will continue to strengthen our economic ties with partners globally, including Israel. We will also continue to uphold policies integral to preserving the prospect of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Note that hardcore Israel supporters want to conflate the two, it’s all Israel. Today the Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a statement on the dramatic United Church of Christ divestment vote yesterday, specifically misrepresenting its target, which is the occupation. Emphasis mine:

The Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the vote by the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC) to boycott Israeli companies and to divest from companies doing business with Israel.

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38 Responses

  1. ckg
    July 1, 2015, 11:02 am

    I believe that Americans for Peace Now are on the AIPAC board. Maybe they should quit over this issue?

    In May, Politico quoted Lara Friedman:

    Lara Friedman, director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now, said AIPAC’s descriptions of what the provisions really mean are “utterly disingenuous and dishonest” and that by supporting the amendments the group is crossing a line by trying to protect the settlements.

    • JWalters
      July 1, 2015, 7:14 pm

      That would be another great development. Maybe it would help crack open a window on the evening news.

  2. amigo
    July 1, 2015, 11:24 am

    I believe that the consumer , in whichever country , will not be likely to spend too much time trying to figure out the difference between so called Israel proper and the territories occupied by Israel so will by default avoid buying anything with the name “Israel on it.This is reasonable as nietanyahu and co ,have spent so much time and effort telling us that there is no difference, as in his election “manifesto” which stated that there will be no Palestinian State.Add to that Israel,s refusal to stop illegal settlement expansion , who can blame the consumer for refusing to spend time working out the details.

    I suspect there are joint efforts between the US and the EU to put Israel in it,s place and punish them for all the insults directed at EU and US officials such as accusations of resurrecting the dark days of Europe in the 30,s /40,s , (in the case of Europe) and more recent insults to Obama , too many to post here.Look for an announcement , in the coming days from the EU on labeling of products from the Occupied Territories.

    Trade agreements designed to scare EU companies from supporting BDS , will not in the end sufficiently curtail or diminish BDS ability to change the eventual outcome , which is an isolated Israel with it,s citizens finding themselves shunned wherever they go.Their self absorbing egos will find that hard to accept and screams of antisemitism will be met with disinterest , given the reduction in importance of that statement due to overuse.

    This is new ground , heretofore not seen.May it increase in magnitude.

    • Kay24
      July 1, 2015, 7:36 pm

      But never underestimate the zionists, they have been devious enough to falsely label some products even pretending they are from other nations. They are masters of deception, this will be nothing for them to get around.

    • CigarGod
      July 2, 2015, 9:03 am

      Exactly.
      Changes in business climate, company strategy, etc. are reasons to divest, or not invest or reinvest. Those reasons don’t violate the law.
      If someone walked into my office and asked me to buy stock in a company linked to a repressive regime, I’d decline.
      If one of the Zio-kids here on MW came by, they wouldn’t get past reception downstairs…just because I don’t like them.

  3. MHughes976
    July 1, 2015, 11:39 am

    Mind you, the EU is a little distracted at the moment by all this Greek salad we’re having to chew on.
    I agree with amigo that it would be rather troublesome for consumers to ask whether this or that product comes from nice Israel or from suspect Israel. Still I suppose that labelling which draws attention to settlements will force some people to reflect on what Israel is really about. I believe that careful reflection will always reveal the fact that there can be no difference in moral standing between a place where what Beinart calls ‘fundamental oppression’ is exercised and a place where it is organised. To that extent AIPAC maybe has a point.

  4. a blah chick
    July 1, 2015, 12:22 pm

    I’ve never understood the policy of just going after the settlements. It’s the Israeli government that puts them there and sustains them, but whatever.

    “Note that hardcore Israel supporters want to conflate the two, it’s all Israel.”

    That’s only the case when it’s convenient. When people try to boycott the WB they say it’s an attack on “Israel” and when people demand the Palestinians be given citizenship they say they are not living in “Israel.”

  5. lysias
    July 1, 2015, 12:39 pm

    Did Congress, by passing this provision, and AIPAC, by drafting it and pressuring Congress to pass it, force the administration to take this stand?

    • Whizdom
      July 1, 2015, 1:00 pm

      Congress was informed of the objection to the language including the settlements and the legal rationale why DoS would object. They went ahead anyway.
      I never saw any debate on this on cspan.

      • Citizen
        July 1, 2015, 10:55 pm

        I never saw it mentioned on any infotainment/news show either when they talked about the fight over the new trade agreement.

    • Hostage
      July 1, 2015, 3:05 pm

      Did Congress, by passing this provision, and AIPAC, by drafting it and pressuring Congress to pass it, force the administration to take this stand?

      No, since the weasel wording of the statute only applies to boycotts undertaken for “political” purposes, not ones undertaken by governments or individuals for legal purposes. If you’ve read the ICJ findings in the Wall case or the dozens of UN Security Council resolutions on Israel’s illegal annexations and the demographic changes brought about by the implantation of settlers, then you already know that all UN member states are under a legally binding UN Charter obligation not to recognize or facilitate those situations in any way. Article 103 of the Charter stipulates that:

      In the event of a conflict between the obligations of the Members of the United Nations under the present Charter and their obligations under any other international agreement, their obligations under the present Charter shall prevail.

      http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/un/unchart.htm#art103

      • ckg
        July 1, 2015, 7:44 pm

        Thanks, Hostage. I was hoping you would weigh in.

  6. Kay24
    July 1, 2015, 1:14 pm

    Things are changing faster than we hoped for. This is an excellent move by the State Department, and long overdue. This is what we should have done years ago, and if we had so perhaps today things might be different. I hope this sends a strong message to the rabid zionists over there in Israel, that their game is over, and they are going to be held responsible for the land thefts and illegal settlements. This is going to strengthen the BDS movement, who works so hard to see justice for the Palestinians.

    • Citizen
      July 1, 2015, 10:57 pm

      What about the three US states that were passing anti-BDS legislation? Is that still trending?

  7. Hostage
    July 1, 2015, 2:51 pm

    Phil: The statement was a special clarification of White House policy on the new fast-track trade bill, which contained a provision that Congress had included at the urging of Israel lobby groups: to punish European companies and governments that support BDS of Israel– including Israeli activities in the occupied territories. The legislation purposely sought to protect settlements; and yesterday the Obama administration said it isn’t buying.

    a blah chick: I’ve never understood the policy of just going after the settlements. It’s the Israeli government that puts them there and sustains them, but whatever.

    No, you are quite correct. The BDS movement includes people, like myself, who are boycotting Israel on perfectly legal, not so-called “political” grounds, regarding its fundamental human rights abuses on either side of the armistice lines.

    For example, “the right of displaced persons “to voluntary return in safety to their homes or places of habitual residence as soon as the reasons for their displacement cease to exist” is regarded as a rule of customary international law (see Rule 132 of the ICRC Study on Customary International Humanitarian Law) that applies to any kind of territory. … The Court considers that the mere fact that peace negotiations are on-going does not absolve the Government from taking other measures, especially when negotiations have been pending for such a long time. In that connection the Court refers to Resolution 1708 (2010) on “Solving property issues of refugees and displaced persons” of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which, relying on relevant international standards, calls on member states to “guarantee timely and effective redress for the loss of access and rights to housing, land and property abandoned by refugees and IDPs without regard to pending negotiations concerning the resolution of armed conflicts of the status of a particular territory”. — Sargsyan v. Azerbaija http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-155662

  8. just
    July 1, 2015, 7:07 pm

    Haaretz editorial:

    “The settlements are not part of Israel

    The U.S. administration’s sharp message that protection of Israel from boycott doesn’t apply to the settlements should come as no surprise.

    ……The law’s sponsors intended to protect products from the settlements, as though they were an inseparable part of Israel. But this attempt to blur the border between Israel and the occupied territories got a cold reception from the president. Obama made it clear that despite the wording of the legislation he signed, he does not intend to protect products made in the territories.

    The United States, a State Department Press Office statement made clear on Tuesday, objected and objects to the settlement policy and has never recognized the territories as part of the State of Israel.

    This policy is shared by the states of the European Union, 16 of whose foreign ministers signed a letter last April in favor of labeling products from the settlements.

    The American administration’s sharp, prompt response should not come as a surprise. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear he does not foresee a peace solution with the Palestinians during his term, while Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said he does not foresee one “in our generation.” The two states for two peoples formula – which the American administration supports, together with most states in the world – has been trampled and crushed by Israel’s government. In view of all this, it was necessary to underline in bold the indistinct borderline between Israel and the territories.

    Israel can once again utter the wail of the “robbed Cossack,” blame Obama for abandoning Israel and even say the president supports BDS. But it should be stressed immediately that Obama does not boycott Israel and the bill he signed explicitly protects it from such actions.

    But when Israel insists on annexing the settlements, it can only expect the international community to step up its policy of distinguishing between Israel and the territories.

    The clear, pointed American message is not directed only at Israel’s government or the trade agreement partners. The message makes it clear to the settlers and to Israeli producers in the territories that the world markets are closing off to their goods, and that these business people had better give profound consideration to their continued investments in the settlements.

    Perhaps economic reason will prevail where strategic and political reason died, and economic common sense will lay down the political milestones along the Green Line.”

    http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.664023?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    Israel is responsible for the illegal ‘settlements’ and for luring/bribing illegal squatters to inhabit them and terrorize Palestinians~ it deserves boycott and sanctions and divestment, imho.

    Hopefully, this is only the opening salvo.

  9. Sulphurdunn
    July 1, 2015, 7:19 pm

    The statement of the Wiesenthal Center is intentionally deceptive, hyperbolic and factually false. The arrogance of it, and the contempt it assumes toward its readers is jaw dropping.

    • Hostage
      July 1, 2015, 7:51 pm

      The statement of the Wiesenthal Center is intentionally deceptive, hyperbolic and factually false. The arrogance of it, and the contempt it assumes toward its readers is jaw dropping.

      So, just business as usual then?

    • just
      July 1, 2015, 8:14 pm

      It’s barf- worthy! An exerpt:

      “Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Center’s Director of Interfaith Affairs, added some historical context. “The UCC today sunk the Mayflower. It is lamentable that the heirs to the Congregationalists who brought notions of religious freedom, equality, and peace between peoples to the Plymouth Colony would subvert that message and embrace ignorance and terror.” Adlerstein added, “Just a few weeks ago the Pew Report on American churches showed Americans walking out of churches like the UCC in droves. We can see why. Why would young people want to stay in a church that makes no pretense towards fairness, and offers no more practical contribution to a complex problem than meaningless slogans that will not improve the chances of peace one iota, and only distance the two sides to the dispute?”

      Coincidentally (?) this happens tonight:

      “Watch former Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren interviewed live via streaming webcast from the Museum of Tolerance

      A Special Evening with Michael B. Oren
      Wednesday, July 1, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. (PDT)”

      http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=lsKWLbPJLnF&b=4441467&ct=14738923#.VZSBcPnF-Sp

      • Annie Robbins
        July 1, 2015, 8:55 pm

        interviewed live via streaming webcast from the Museum of Tolerance!!! omg, what an opportunity. let’s set our alarm clocks.

      • Mooser
        July 2, 2015, 12:37 am

        ” let’s set our alarm clocks.”

        Nah, I got a better idea, you or maybe Phil or Adam or one or two of several others can set your alarm clock, listen, and then I’ll read about it at Mondo the next day or so. You guys are young, and besides you’re hardened to the stuff. If I listened I’d probably bust an aorta or something.

      • just
        July 2, 2015, 9:14 am

        +1, Mooser & Annie!

        (I’m not ashamed to admit that I couldn’t bring myself to listen)

  10. NickJOCW
    July 1, 2015, 7:38 pm

    As stated, it is a clarification, rather than a change of policy. What is significant is that it comes at this particular time since Mat Lee and others have been seeking some unequivocal response on the issue for yonks and normally get fobbed off with ambiguous circumlocutions. I would be surprised if progress with the Iran negotiations doesn’t have some bearing on the timing. By that I mean that if the negotiations succeed they will herald a significant shift in US/Israeli relations, and the areas most immediately affected will likely be precisely those where the US has hitherto felt obliged to provide logically untenable excuses to avoid condemning illegal Israeli behaviour. Nothing to do with the unbreakable commitment to Israel’s security but a real distinction between Israel and the Occupied Territories

    • bintbiba
      July 2, 2015, 11:17 am

      +1 , Just
      +1 annie
      +1 Mooser

      Triple ditto !!

    • ckg
      July 2, 2015, 5:52 pm

      But is the statement a clarification? Or just another weasily obfuscation? The statement says the US opposes the conflation of ‘Israel’ and ‘Israeli-controlled territories’ in the TPA’s anti-BDS provision. And it says the U.S. strongly opposes BDS targeting the ‘State of Israel’. One has to apply some logic to assume the State Dept means to say it “has no objection to BDS aimed at occupation”. But the clarification never stated that outright.

      At yesterday’s State Dept daily briefing, a clarification of the clarification was sought:

      QUESTION: Yes, two questions on Israel – clarifying the statement that you made yesterday about language in the TPA legislation on Israeli-controlled territories. Had you made your objections know prior to the amendment sort of sailing through? And also, there was a part that said that the U.S. Government doesn’t defend or pursue policies that will legitimize settlement activity. Are – have you taken a position for or against boycott activities, the West Bank and Jerusalem there if you’re not trying to legitimize settlement activity?

      MR KIRBY: We’ve long – so a couple of things here. First, yes, we made our concerns known in the drafting process. Number two, nothing’s changed about our policy of not supporting boycotts of the State of Israel.

      QUESTION: Right, but this was saying that —

      MR KIRBY: And nothing has changed about our policy – a policy longstanding for many, many years – of opposing Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines.

      So Kirby is just as weasily as always, and cuts off the question. It makes me long for the day of having Jen Psaki in the role.

  11. Kay24
    July 1, 2015, 7:39 pm

    All the US government has to say is, it supports Israel, but since they do not accept, nor recognize, the illegal settlements, and because of UN concerns, the US simply cannot okay any goods from those stolen regions. After all this is disputed lands, and most nations have refused to recognize it.

    • SQ Debris
      July 2, 2015, 2:28 pm

      “Disputed lands” my ass. Acquisition of the language of the oppressor class? It is unequivocally called Illegally Occupied Territory. Settlers call it “disputed lands” to make it sound as though there is some disagreement on that fact when, in fact, there is none.

      • Kay24
        July 2, 2015, 4:21 pm

        I agree, but then what else would you expect from them. I have yet to hear one zionist or a supporter admit that these are illegal occupied stolen land.

      • CigarGod
        July 2, 2015, 4:24 pm

        Everything can be accomplished if one practices hard enough. They finally can choke it down…and chaes it with denial.

  12. Hostage
    July 1, 2015, 9:23 pm

    The US government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them and, by extension, does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them.

    As a member of Avaaz, I strongly disagree. Apparently the IRS never got the memo, since it’s still allowing Zionists to write-off their contributions to the illegal settlements. Likewise, the Justice Department is permitting tens of thousands of US citizens to reside in settlements acquired and maintained by plunder, murder, and terror, and to return or visit the USA without fear of prosecution. See “Why Are US Taxpayers Subsidizing Right-Wing Israeli Settlers?” http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/03/hebron-fund-israeli-settlers-tax-exempt-irs-avaaz

    • Citizen
      July 1, 2015, 11:31 pm

      There’s a map on the Avaaz web site. You can click on any country and it shows how many members are in the target country. I couldn’t find Israel on that map. Jordan’s there.

    • Mooser
      July 2, 2015, 12:40 am

      “Likewise, the Justice Department is permitting tens of thousands of US citizens to reside in settlements acquired and maintained by plunder, murder, and terror, and to return or visit the USA without fear of prosecution”

      Freebooting and philibustering are such fun!

  13. David Doppler
    July 2, 2015, 12:08 pm

    It’s an interesting mis-match between Obama and Netanyahu. For years, I thought of Obama as a Judo Master, only willing to touch an opponent in defensive mode, using an attacker’s momentum to throw him for a fall. Recently, however, the most powerful man in the world is jabbing, jabbing, little punches, each designed to say, “did that sting? watch out, I’ll throw another one soon that is 2% harder.”

    Meanwhile, for Netanyahu, every single disagreement or personal slight is the Nazi brownshirts taking over again, cause for soaring rhetoric invoking the Torah and the Holocaust, with him in the role of David, the existence of the state of Israel and the Jewish people hanging by a single thread in existential balance. The Judo Master turned jabber vs the 800 pound drama queen.

    What galls me is the impudence with which Netanyahu and his supporters disregard any and all effort at balance, external truth, universal values, and the impunity with which their dishonesty is treated by our media and major social institutions generally. Chutzpah isn’t a virtue, in the end. Pretending that it is, while innocent children are oppressed, is soul-destroying.

    Enough, already! Squash Netanyahu politically like the giant ugly bug he is. Let’s move on to realistic solutions.

    • lysias
      July 2, 2015, 12:35 pm

      It’s rope-a-dope, Every time Netanyahu overreacts, he further discredits himself.

    • eljay
      July 2, 2015, 12:55 pm

      || David Doppler: … What galls me is the impudence with which Netanyahu and his supporters disregard any and all effort at balance, external truth, universal values … ||

      Balance, truth and values don’t matter when you have “dialog”, “nuances”, “narratives” and the Holocaust on your side of the argument…I mean “conversation”.

      || … and the impunity with which their dishonesty is treated by our media and major social institutions generally. ||

      It’s that bootlicking that really gets me. No-one cares to suck Putin’s or Assad’s ass (sorry for mixing metaphors), but far too many people are far too ready to do far too much for a supremacist “Jewish State” that has been committing (war) crimes with impunity for almost 70 years and shows no signs of slowing down.

  14. just
    July 2, 2015, 2:57 pm

    Brilliant:

    “Target me with your boycott, please

    …Of course, boycotts are a lot more complex than snooker, so there may be intermediate red balls or trick shots coming off the cushion. When a grassroots boycott campaign has no direct influence over either the government or the public of the target country, it must motivate those who do have influence – such as corporations, academic, cultural and sports institutions and, of course, their own governments and their agencies – to implement their own boycott campaigns. …

    …As in snooker, it’s a question of tactics and being able to calculate the angles. Governments on the receiving end of boycotts are typically highly ideological and not easily swayed. Think of South African apartheid or Iran’s nuclear project or even Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In all three cases, the boycott was ostensibly aimed at the government, but there was never any doubt that its effects would be felt by the people – including those, such as the blacks in South Africa, who are meant to be the beneficiaries of the political change intended by the boycotters.

    After almost 50 years of Israeli defiance and evasion, there is little prospect of diplomatic change. The prime goal of the boycott against Israel, therefore, is to persuade the bulk of Israelis that the occupation is not in their interests. And the way to do that is by focusing their attention sharply on what those interests are and how much they have to lose.

    It follows that boycotting only the settlements and their commerce, as many on the Israeli left suggest, makes no sense. They are not ideologically inclined to force the government out of the occupied territories and their numbers are insufficient. It is precisely those of us who have – or perceive ourselves to have – little personal investment in the occupation who should be targeted. For the occupation to end, Israel’s self-indulgent, apathetic and blinkered middle class needs a profound wake-up call – courtesy of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

    Unlike the snooker cue, a boycott is a very blunt instrument. It aims wide and it doesn’t discriminate between those who support the government and those who don’t. Everyone gets hurt equally. As such, it is unfair and it constitutes collective punishment.

    But before you get all hot and bothered about it, take a moment to think about who else is suffering collective punishment in this fair land of ours. Think about the 1.5 million Gazans barely surviving in the ruins of their open-air prison. Think of the uprooted Bedouin, the West Bank kids woken up by soldiers in the middle of the night, the crowds waiting for no reason at checkpoints, the 300-plus prisoners in administrative detention, the villagers who are evicted from their homes when the army wants to do a little live-fire practice. And I haven’t even mentioned the dead.

    The boycott means that we are going to get a dose of our own medicine for a change. Bring it on.”

    Roy Isacowitz is a journalist and writer living in Tel Aviv and an editor at the English edition of Haaretz.

    http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.664039

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