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January 23, 2019 8:37 am

Irish Lawmakers May Punish US Tech Firms for Israel Involvement

avatar by Ira Stoll


Pro-Palestinian protesters near the Irish Parliament in Dublin at a rally against Israeli air strikes in Gaza in 2009. Photo: William Murphy / Flickr.

The lower house of Ireland’s parliament may vote as soon as this week on a bill that would make it a criminal offense for Irish companies to do business in “occupied territories,” including parts of Israel’s capital and its suburbs.

The bill, which passed Ireland’s senate last month, has far reaching implications, because many giant high-technology companies, such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, have large presences in both Ireland and Israel. Ireland has been a magnet for multinational corporations in part because of its low tax rates, while Israel’s startup culture and highly trained workforce has made it a research and development hub.

The legislation, if enacted, could force companies to choose between staying in Israel or staying in Ireland. It would penalize executives of the companies with up to five years in prison. If companies or executives complied with the Irish law by exiting Israel, they could run afoul of American federal and state laws designed to combat the Arab boycott of Israel. Such Arab boycotts of Jewish products in the Land of Israel have existed since 1945, before the Jewish state even existed.

If the companies respond to the law by choosing to exit Ireland, Ireland would lose their tax revenues, which, even at the low rates, are significant. The companies could also face higher tax rates in other jurisdictions, hurting their shareholders and their profits.

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Orde Kittrie, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and professor of law at Arizona State University, who wrote an oped about the bill before it passed the Irish Senate last year, said that if the bill passes the lower house too, it “would create huge problems for leading American tech companies including Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook that have large scale operations in both Ireland and Israel.”

“Aside from its implications for Ireland’s economy, such a law would hinder the prospects for peace,” Kittrie said, warning that it “would encourage the continued refusal of Hamas and other Palestinian groups to reach a lasting compromise with the Jewish State.”

The bill could also damage Ireland’s relations with the United States.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Senator Frances Black, signed a June 2016 letter advocating the boycott of all Israeli goods and services, regardless of whether they are from inside or outside the “occupied territories.” The letter described the Boycott, Divesment, and Sanctions movement against Israel as a “means to overcome the Israeli regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.”

Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Ophir Kariv, warned recently that the legislation “takes an extremist approach to a complex situation and is specifically designed to target Israeli civilians while not helping a single Palestinian.”

“It is morally flawed, historically void and politically destructive — for the peace process and for the prospects of Ireland playing any role in promoting this process — as well as for the fabric of Irish-Israeli relations,” Kariv said, warning that its passage would “make Ireland the most extreme anti-Israel country in the western world and entrench it deeply on the wrong side of history.”

Ira Stoll is the former managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post.

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