US citizens who wish to boycott Israeli goods in protest at the Palestinian situation may find themselves in trouble. Such boycotts are actually illegal under US law. US Department of Commerce trade amendments ‘counteract the participation of US citizens… in economic boycotts or embargoes’. They cover ‘all persons and every aspect of commerce’. The legislation was passed in the 1970s to target the Arab League boycott of Israel, and rules that: ‘Refusal to do business with Israel may result in a fine of up to $50,000 and five years’ imprisonment.’
Ernesto Cienfuegos, editor of Californian news agency La Voz Aztlan who has promoted the Israeli boycott, is threatened by the Act, which was updated in November 2000. The maximum imprisonment is ten years.
Nevertheless, other US citizens are risking the boycott-ban laws. US company Texas Exports denied auto-parts sales to an Israeli company. CEO John Harris said: ‘We urge you to rein in your military and stop oppression of the Palestinian people. Your country has lost the respect of the civilized world.’ Hundreds of negative calls and death threats ensued.
On US campuses students are demanding that universities divest themselves of Israel-linked endowments and investments. The University of California, for example, has $3.5 billion invested in companies with significant holdings in Israel. Israeli academics too are demanding severance of academic ties with their country. Defying hate mail, professors from Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion and Haifa Universities in Israel have joined their US colleagues’ initiatives.
An ‘appeal to the world’ has also been initiated by 26 Jewish citizens and nine Jews of other nationalities calling for a global boycott of all Israeli ‘exports, leisure and tourism in the hope that it will have the same positive result that the boycott of South Africa had’ on the apartheid regime there. Jewish endorsements have flooded in from Iceland to India, from the Arctic to the Antipodes. The boycott movement is gathering momentum, despite the US ban.