J Street Opposes Roskam-Vargas Trade Bill That Undermines US and Israeli Interests

April 22nd, 2015

J Street is adamantly opposed to the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. We’ve worked consistently, particularly on college campuses, to oppose BDS efforts that are often thinly-veiled attempts to delegitimize Israel. 

We view the Roskam-Vargas “U.S.-Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act” (H.R.825) as not simply unhelpful to the effort to combat Global BDS, but contrary to longstanding US policy opposing settlement of the territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.

In particular, the bill perpetuates and validates one of the BDS movement’s most harmful fallacies: that Israel and the territory it occupies in the West Bank should be treated as one and the same.

The United States has, across nine administrations, recognized the West Bank as occupied territory and opposed the expansion and entrenchment of settlements there. Democratic and Republican administrations alike have also opposed encroachment on Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, which must be part of a future Palestinian capital if a two-state outcome is to be achieved.

For more than two decades now, the United States has sought to achieve a two-state resolution to the conflict – based on the presumption that a state for the Palestinian people will be established on the territory currently occupied by Israel. A two-state solution remains the only way for Israel to guarantee long-term international recognition and security. Failure to achieve it in the immediate future threatens the founding vision of Israel as both democratic and the national home of the Jewish people – as Israeli leaders including Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert have pointed out.

The current stalemate in diplomatic progress toward a two-state solution has led some groups to pursue more limited boycotts or divestment initiatives in opposition to only the occupation and not Israel itself. These “targeted” efforts do not call for a boycott of Israel itself or Israeli goods, but of settlement products, unlike the all-encompassing boycott of Israel promoted by the global BDS Movement.

While J Street does not participate in such targeted boycott or divestment initiatives, we do not believe it is productive or appropriate for the United States government to spend time and resources preventing or reporting on such efforts. In fact, this legislation would actually put the US in the awkward position of making it easier—by reducing potential liabilities— for companies to conduct commercial or related activity in occupied territory that is expanding and deepening the very settlement enterprise that the US opposes.

The bill’s provisions related to US Government prevention and reporting of private investigations into commercial activities also raise serious concerns about its constitutionality and compatibility with fundamental American concepts of liberty. Such governmental overreach would only fuel the Global BDS movement.

J Street therefore opposes this legislation and urges Members not to lend it their support.

J Street notes that a related Senate bill (S.619) introduced by Senators Benjamin Cardin and Rob Portman does not contain the most problematic provisions of the House bill, but still applies to “territories controlled by Israel.” J Street urges Senators to strike this counter-productive inclusion and looks forward to supporting the Senate bill if and when such an amendment is made. At the same time, J Street will oppose attempts to pass the House version of the bill as part of Senate legislation.