Trump Admin Thwarts Irish Effort to Boycott Israel, Criminalize Trade

Officials scrambled to stop Irish effort to criminalize trade with Jews

Boycott Israel
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February 5, 2018

The Trump administration played a key role in thwarting a recent effort by the Irish government to boycott Israel and make it a crime for Irish citizens to purchase products made in contested areas of the Jewish state, a move that would have severely jeopardized Ireland's trade with the United States, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.

The Irish Parliament was poised last week to pass a major piece of legislation that would make it crime to engage in trade with Israelis. The bill, which was seen as part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, would have imprisoned Irish citizens who purchased souvenirs in Israel for a maximum of five years and subjected them to a fine of more than $310,000.

Upon learning of the effort, senior Trump administration officials in the State Department are said to have scrambled to open up channels to Irish leaders in a bid to scuttle the bill and avoid a standoff with the Irish government over the measure.

Trump administration officials are said to have made clear to Irish leaders that passage of the bill would put them starkly at odds with the United States and subject them to inclusion on a list of countries supporting boycotts of the Jewish state.

While some Irish lawmakers described the effort as a "crackpot bill," its passage through the Parliament was all but assured until U.S. officials from the Trump administration became involved, multiple sources told the Free Beacon.

"All the credit here goes to the Trump State Department," said one senior official at a major pro-Israel organization who is familiar with the administration's efforts to stop the bill.

"This law was a done deal in Ireland. It was going to pass, and there would have been this insane situation where the Irish would be sending people to jail for buying souvenirs in the Old City, while the U.S. would have to put them on our list of countries that boycott Israel, which is not a good list to be on," said the source, who would only speak on background about the diplomacy, which U.S. officials are said to be keeping under wraps in order to avoid offending the Irish government.

"Instead, the State Department found out what was happening, and they scrambled to alert the Irish to the nature and risks of their own law, and Irish lawmakers came to their senses," the source said. "Crisis averted, at least for now."

The Irish boycott bill was ultimately tabled until the summer, though some sources expect that the bill will not be revisited anytime soon following Trump administration diplomatic efforts to oppose the legislation.

A senior State Department official with knowledge of the situation told the Washington Free Beacon that upon learning of the boycott effort, administration officials registered "strong opposition."

"Our strong opposition to boycotts and sanctions of the State of Israel is well known," said the official, who was not authorized to speak on record.  "We look to other countries to join us in bringing an end to anti-Israel bias."

An official in the State Department's public affairs department would not publicly comment on the matter, telling the Free Beacon that it is against policy to "comment on private diplomatic conversations" that may have taken place over the issue.

The Irish boycott bill was supported and pushed along by activists associated with the BDS movement, which has been dubbed a virulently anti-Semitic global campaign to economically isolate the Jewish state.

While the bill would have criminalized trade with any entity producing goods in so-called Israeli settlements, the legislation would have had a much more severe chilling effect on trade between the countries. An Irish citizen who purchased souvenirs or small items while in Jerusalem could have faced harsh penalties and even prison time.

"In addition to running afoul of U.S. federal law, the bill would subject companies to U.S. state-level sanctions, violate European Union and international law, threaten Ireland's vital economic links to the United States, and hinder the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians," Orde Kittrie, an Arizona State University law professor and fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in a recent op-ed.

U.S. companies with business interests in Ireland would have also been put in a tough position—either comply with the Irish boycott or run afoul of U.S. laws barring such efforts. American businesses could have been sanctioned by the United States for violating a score of state laws baring boycotts of Israel.

Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor at Northwestern University and expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told the Free Beacon the Irish BDS bill would have taken a grave toll on U.S. companies.

"The Irish bill will pose a grave threat for U.S. companies with headquartered in Ireland, or U.S. subsidiaries of Irish companies," Kontorovich said. "All will be forced to effectively boycott Israeli companies, putting them in violation of U.S anti-boycott laws passed in the 1970s."

These laws come with heavy economic tolls and even jail time.

"It would also put Ireland in the unseemly position of prosecuting Irish Jews who get a tour of the Old City, or study at a yeshiva [Jewish school] there," he said." That is likely to run directly against U.S. human rights and anti-discrimination principles. U.S. law commands the president to take actions like such a potential law into consideration as a trade negotiation consideration. The Trump administration will surely welcome the Irish law as activating a congressional license to pressure U.S. firms there to repatriate."

Frances Black, the Irish senator who introduced the boycott bill, has a history of supporting economic warfare on the Jewish state.

Following careful and quiet intervention by the Trump administration over the matter, Simon Coveney, Ireland's deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs, publicly stated that the Irish government opposed the measure.

"While all the EU [European Union] member states oppose settlements, and many feel as strongly as Ireland, the legal position is that no such member state has yet taken the step to take action on a national basis on this issue," Coveney said on Jan. 30.