US expands penalties for complying with Arab League boycott of Israel

Firms that adhere to embargo must now tell the US government when settling charges, as Abraham Accord countries discard decades-old protocol but Iraq, Syria double down

Arab League foreign ministers meet during an annual meeting in Cairo, Egypt, September 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Arab League foreign ministers meet during an annual meeting in Cairo, Egypt, September 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Biden administration will increase penalties for complying with the decades-old Arab League boycott of Israel, at a moment when some longtime participants have opted out and others are doubling down.

Matthew Axelrod, the assistant commerce secretary for export enforcement, told the American Jewish Committee on Thursday that those complying with the boycott will now be required to admit wrongdoing before settling charges with the US government, and that they will be subject to penalties if their foreign subsidiaries comply with the boycott.

Companies until now did not have to acknowledge participating in the boycott when they settled charges.

The boycott has existed since before Israel was established as a state and Congress made compliance illegal in the 1970s.

Axelrod, meeting with the AJC at its Washington, DC, office, said the boycott was weakening. Notably, he said, the four Arab countries that, in 2020, normalized relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords are all members of the Arab League, and have all discarded the boycott.

Other countries were recommitting to their Israel boycotts, however, he said.

“Holdouts, like Assad’s Syria, have categorically rejected ‘normalization’ with Israel,” Axelrod said, according to an AJC release. “And in May, Iraq passed a law that even criminalizes normalization of relations with Israel.”

“This recent doubling down on anti-Israeli sentiment by countries like Syria and Iraq comes at a time of shocking growth in antisemitism — what AJC notes as the world’s oldest hatred — more broadly, both here in the United States and around the globe,” Axelrod said.

Axelrod’s briefing with the AJC was the first under the group’s new CEO, former Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch.

Then-US Representative Ted Deutch speaks during a drive-in rally for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at Broward College, on Thursday, on October 29, 2020, in Coconut Creek, Florida. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Deutch said battling the boycott was still important, even as it becomes less relevant.

“Despite warming relations, some Arab nations have with Israel, the Arab League needlessly persists in this boycott, which has done nothing to hinder Israel from becoming an economic powerhouse in the Middle East,” Deutch said.

“We applaud the Commerce Department’s efforts to sanction American firms that bow to the demands of, or seek to curry favor with boycotting nations. They must be held accountable for activities that help spread anti-Zionist sentiment,” he said.

Most Popular
read more: