WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama signed a bill that punishes the BDS campaign against Israel, but said he will not apply a segment that extends protections to West Bank settlements.
The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, aimed at removing unfair barriers to competitive US trade, passed Congress on Feb. 11. Obama signed the bill into law on Feb. 24.
A lengthy section of the law on promoting US-Israel trade requires non-cooperation with entities that participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, and reporting on such entities.
Within its definition of an Israel boycott, the section includes actions that would target businesses in Israeli-controlled territories.
I have directed my administration to strongly oppose boycotts, divestment campaigns and sanctions targeting the State of Israel, Obama said in a signing statement.
As long as I am president, we will continue to do so. Certain provisions of this act, by conflating Israel and Israeli-controlled territories, are contrary to longstanding bipartisan US policy, including with regard to the treatment of settlements.
Obama referred to the longstanding constitutional practice of a president not applying a part of a law that does not comport with US foreign policy.
The BDS portion of the law, which is backed by AIPAC, was authored by Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and Juan Vargas, D-Calif.
SIX TOP Democratic senators, including four Jewish lawmakers, urged the Obama administration to abide by the new provisions that would protect Israeli West Bank settlements from boycotts.
The Feb. 25 statement was issued in the name of Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sens. Michael Bennet, Colorado; Charles Schumer, New York; Ron Wyden, Oregon; Ben Cardin, Maryland; and Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut.
While the Obama Administration has reiterated its opposition to boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions targeting the State of Israel, it has mischaracterized the TPA and Customs bill provisions as making a US policy statement about Israeli settlements, their statement said.
These provisions are not about Israeli settlements. Rather, consistent with US policy, they are about discouraging politically motivated commercial actions aimed at delegitimizing Israel and pressuring Israel into unilateral concessions outside the bounds of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Politically-motivated commercial actions alludes to EU regulations established last year that require goods produced in settlements to be labeled separately from those produced in Israel.
Republicans also have objected to the policy.
Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas, a presidential candidate, are circulating a bill that would override the longstanding US policy of distinguishing goods from Israel with those from the West Bank.
MULTIPLE BILLS are under consideration in Congress and in over 20 state legislatures targeting BDS.
Many of the state bills mandate the divestment of state funds, including pensions, from entities that boycott Israel, and a number of those bills extend protection to the settlements.
Illinois and South Carolina have enacted anti-BDS bills in recent months that include protection for settlements.
The Florida legislature last week passed a measure that includes settlement protections; it awaits signing by Gov. Rick Scott. A similar bill was introduced last week in the Ohio Legislature.