Congressman: Why Is Obama Using Labeling of Israeli Goods to Pressure the Jewish State?
An Open Letter to The Secretary of the Treasury
Dear Secretary Lew,
As I am sure you are aware, the recent “reissuance” of the West Bank country of origin marking requirements from the West Bank and Gaza has raised many questions as to its purpose and intent. The circumstances surrounding the reissuance seem odd, if not insidious.
The issuance occurred a little after noon on Saturday, January 23, 2016. That timing is curious. The entire East Coast was being buried in a historic winter snowstorm during this time. It seems odd that on a weekend when all transportation was suspended throughout the entire Northeast, and people were literally holed up in their homes not monitoring these types of actions, it was deemed necessary to reissue these 1995 guidelines.
Let me provide some background for the interested reader. In accordance with the Tariff Act of 1930, “every article of foreign origin (or its container) imported in to the U.S. shall be marked … in such a manner as to indicate to the ultimate purchaser in the U.S. the English name of the country of origin of the article.” Trade Directive (T.D.) 95-25 records for us how the US Customs Service complied with this particular provision prior to 1995:
Customs had taken the position that, in order for the country of origin marking of a good which was produced in the West Bank or Gaza Strip to be considered acceptable, the word “Israel” must appear in the marking designation. However, by letter dated October 24, 1994, the Department of State advised the Department of the Treasury that, in view of certain developments, principally the Israeli-PLO Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (signed on September 13, 1993), the primary purpose of [the Tariff Act] would be best served if goods produced in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were permitted to be marked “West Bank” or “Gaza Strip.”
This “Israeli-PLO Declaration of Principles” is best known as the Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords were a time in history that was almost euphoric in nature for many. There was hope that a peace would be achieved, and the Clinton administration desired to encourage trade with the Palestinian-administered places in disputed areas. There were questions regarding how to handle trade and tax issues, hence the need to designate goods coming from these areas. It is my understanding that the Clinton administration intended to specifically prohibit the unilateral recognition of any Palestinian state.
This trade directive was never enforced because it was seen for what it was: a ham-handed, job-killing mandate imposing a false designation upon Israeli goods produced in disputed areas. Then everyone loses. Businesses operating out of these areas should be able to designate their items as coming from “Israel” as well as — or instead of — “West Bank” or “Gaza” if they want.
Fast forward 20 years. There is now a global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Antisemitism is on the rise. Israel does not have a peaceful partner to negotiate with. There is an Islamic State. Iran has been sanctioned, and de-sanctioned. The European Commission has gone along with the global BDS movement to utilize the labeling of Israeli goods as a way to delegitimize the nation of Israel.
The world is a strange and dangerous place. Yet, this administration wants to seemingly force Israel back to the negotiating table and to make unilateral and dangerous concessions to prove that Israel can be trusted. Israel, understandably, is not eager to do so until it has a negotiating partner that makes some effort to show its own good faith. Therefore, one can understand the skepticism as to the rationale behind “reissuing” these labeling guidelines at this time. I am writing to seek clarification from you as to whether there has indeed been a change in policy, and if so, why?
It seems to me that a labeling requirement drafted 20 years ago to promote Palestinian goods under entirely different circumstances but never enforced is now being dusted off and resurrected to coerce Israel out of spite.
I look forward to a response from you, and if not, will likely have to assume the worst — and I, for one, will not stand idly by while Israel is being thrown under the bus.
Congressman Doug Lamborn