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

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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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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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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