Arab League boycott of Israel
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The Arab League boycott of Israel is a collective boycott by Arab League member states aimed at preventing Arab states from trading with Israel and adding to Israel's economic and military strength. Prior to the establishment of Israel, the Arab League Boycott was designed to weaken Jewish industry in Palestine and to deter Jewish immigration to the region.
An official organized boycott of the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish community in Palestine) was adopted by the Arab League in December 1945, and persisted against Israel after its founding in 1948. Although the boycott undoubtedly hurt Israel to some extent, it failed to economically cripple the country. Israel managed to build one of the strongest economies in the region, and even managed to evade the boycott and clandestinely trade with the Arab and Muslim world through a number of countermeasures. The implementation of the boycott has varied over time among member states, and has since waned, with some states no longer applying the boycott.
Egypt (1979), the Palestinian Authority (1993), and Jordan (1994) signed peace treaties or agreements that ended their participation in the boycott of Israel. Mauritania, which never applied the boycott, established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1999. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia do not enforce the boycott. In 1994, following the Oslo Peace Accords, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) states, ended their participation in the Arab boycott against Israel. The move prompted a surge of investment in Israel, and resulted in the initiation of joint cooperation projects between Israel and Arab countries. In 1996, the GCC states recognized that total elimination of the boycott is a necessary step for peace and economic development in the region.
While in its heyday, the Arab boycott had a moderate negative impact on Israel's economy and development, but also had significant negative effect on economic welfare in participating Arab countries, as the result of a deterioration in the foreign direct investment climate in the Arab world, and reduction in the volume of trade. In present days, the boycott is sporadically applied and ambiguously enforced, and therefore, no longer has significant effect on the Israeli or Arab economies. The boycott also negatively impacted other countries— particularly the United States during the Arab Oil Embargo in the 1970s.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Boycott attempts in Mandatory Palestine
- 1.2 First Formal Arab League Boycott and Limited Application
- 1.3 Establishment of the Secondary Boycott and Uniform Application
- 1.4 Further Intensification of the Boycott and International Capitulation to Tertiary Boycotts
- 1.5 Height of the Boycott — the Oil Crisis
- 1.6 Weakening of the Boycott
- 1.7 Contemporary Boycott
- 2 Effects of the Boycott
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Boycott attempts in Mandatory Palestine
As part of the intercommunal conflict in Mandatory Palestine, some Arab leaders sought to orchestrate anti-Jewish boycotts from 1922, 26 years before the establishment of Israel. The original boycott forswore with any Jewish-owned business operating in Mandate of Palestine. Palestinian Arabs "who were found to have broken the boycott ... were physically attacked by their brethren and their merchandise damaged" when Palestinian Arabs rioted in Jerusalem in 1929. Another, stricter boycott was imposed on Jewish businesses in following the riots that called on all of the Arabs in the region to abide by its terms. The Arab Executive Committee of the Syrian-Palestinian Congress called for a boycott of Jewish businesses in 1933 and in 1934, the Arab Labor Federation conducted a boycott as well as an organized picketing of Jewish businesses. In 1936, the Palestinian Arab leadership called on another boycott and threatened those who did not respect the boycott with violence, however, this boycott was unsuccessful as Jewish lawyers, physicians, and hospitals were too heavily integrated into Palestinian society.
First Formal Arab League Boycott and Limited Application
On 2 December 1945, the Arab League issued its first formal declaration of boycott. The declaration urged both Arab United Nations member states and Arab states which had not yet obtained UN membership to prohibit the products and usage of the products of Jewish industry in Palestine, effective January 1, 1946. The declaration, contained in Arab League Resolution 16, stated:
Products of Palestinian Jews are to be considered undesirable in Arab countries. They should be prohibited and refused as long as their production in Palestine might lead to the realization of Zionist political aims 
The Arab League began to create an apparatus for implementing the resolution in February the same year. The first body established for this purpose was the Permanent Boycott Committee, based in Cairo, Egypt. On 12 June the Boycott Committee adopted a recommendation in Arab League Resolution 70, which called upon the Arab states to set up national boycott offices. Later measures adopted by the Committee included requiring those selling goods to Arab states to provide a certificate of origin to prove the goods were not manufactured by Palestinian Jews, the allocation of 50 percent of the value of goods confiscated in this manner to customs officials, the prohibition by Arabs of the use of Jewish banks, insurance companies, contractors, and transport in Palestine. Member states of the Arab League began implementing these resolutions through legal and administrative measures. After the Partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states was introduced at the United Nations on 29 November 1947, efforts to apply the boycott were intensified. However, the boycott was unsuccessful, as established in the first annual report of the Boycott Committee, and trade between Palestine (the vast majority by Jews) and Arab States neighboring Palestine continued to thrive.
Following the Israeli declaration of independence on 14 May 1948, the Arab League repeated its calls for a ban on all financial and commercial transactions with Palestinian Jews, boycotting the newly formed State of Israel. The Arab League cut off postal, telegraphic, and radio communications with Israel, and Arab States began to impose a land, sea, and air blockade on the fledgling state. Israeli goods, shipped through Alexandria, Port Suez and Port Said, were confiscated by Egyptian inspectors. A prize court established in Alexandria in 1949 authorized the seizure of cargo ships destined for Israel. In 1950, regulations were promulgated to allow the search of ships and aircraft and the seizure of Israeli-bound goods found within. The Permanent Boycott Committee seized to function upon the outbreak of war between Israel and surrounding Arab States on May 15, 1948.
Establishment of the Secondary Boycott and Uniform Application
The Arab-Israeli war ended on 10 March 1949 with a decisive Israeli victory. On the 6th of February, 1950, King Farouk of Egypt issued a decree under which manifests and cargoes of ships could be searched to ensure that no "war contraband" was present on vessels bound directly or indirectly for Israel. War contraband included arms, munitions, and war material. However, article 10 additionally stipulated that other goods were to be considered "contraband" and were to be treated as war material — ships, chemicals, motor vehicles, money, gold, and fuel of any kind. At the time 90% of Israeli oil was supplied by Iran and imported through the Straits of Tiran. To prevent Iranian oil from entering Israel, Egypt blockaded the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba. Oil tankers proceeding through the Suez Canal were required to submit documentation to guarantee none of their cargo would arrive at an Israeli port. To enforce the policy of denying strategic goods to Israel, the decree authorized the use of force against any ship attempting to avoid search, including live gunfire, to make it submit to inspection. If a ship were to subsequently allow a search and reveal that they were not carrying any "contraband", the ship would be allowed to continue its voyage. However, if the ship resisted a search by force, it would be considered to have violated its neutrality. For this "hostile act", ships were to be seized and their cargo impounded even if they were not found to possess any "contraband". Ships found or suspected to transgress the Egyptian shipping practices delineated in this decree were blacklisted by Egypt and denied free use of the Suez Canal. The decree of February 1950 signaled a shift in the policy of the Arab League. The boycott's immediate purpose had originally been to prevent direct Arab trade with Israel (primary boycott). With this decree the boycott was expanded to the interruption of international trade with Israel (secondary boycott). On 8 April 1950, the Arab League Council embraced this shift, approving a decision by its political committee to the effect that all ships carrying goods or immigrants to Israel were to be blacklisted.
In the summer of 1950, the governments of Britain, Norway, and the US lodged a complaint with Egypt about some of their tankers being blacklisted and barred from using the Suez Canal. On 1 September 1951, after ships destined for Eilat had been stopped at the entrance of the Gulf of Aqaba, Israel went to the United Nations, demanding Egypt terminate its restrictions on navigation through international waterways in adherence to the 1949 Armistice and to Security Council resolutions prohibiting further hostilities between the Arab states and Israel. The United Nations Security Council issued a resolution which condemned the Egyptian practice as an "abuse of the exercise of the right of visit, search and seizure." This resolution was ignored by Egypt.
On 19 May 1951, the Arab League Council passed Resolution 357. Resolution 357 established a successor to the defunct Permanent Boycott Committee, the Central Boycott Office (CBO), with its headquarters in Damascus. Branch offices of the Damascus CBO were established in each of the Arab League member states. To direct the CBO the resolution created the position of Boycott Commissioner and provided for the appointment of his deputies, who were to function as liaison officers accredited by each member state of the Arab League. The primary task of the Damascus CBO was to coordinate the boycott with its affiliated offices, and to report regularly to Arab League Council. Biannual meetings were to be held each year after 1951 to coordinate boycott policies and to compile blacklists of individuals and firms which had violated the boycott. Each member state of the Arab League would enforce the resolution through legal and administrative measures. Finally, the resolution stipulated that "participation in regional conferences organized on the initiative of one country or by an international organization could not be attended if Israel were also invited", expanding upon its 1950 decree that such a conference would not be organized by an Arab state.
Boycotts were almost exclusively applied against specific individuals and firms in third countries, and very rarely against the countries themselves, excluding a few short-lived boycotts of countries in the early 1950s. A plan was made by the Arab League in 1952 to boycott the Federal Republic of Germany after it signed the Reparations Agreement with Israel, which would provide Israel with restitution for the slave labor of Jews during the Holocaust and compensate for losses in Jewish livelihood and property that was stolen due to Nazi persecution and genocide. The Arab League strongly opposed the agreement, but its threats to boycott West Germany were never carried out due to economic considerations—the Arab League would be impacted far more negatively by losing trade with West Germany than vice versa. Similarly, at its second meeting on the boycott in 1953, the Arab League proposed a wide range of restrictions on trade with Cyprus, which had become a hub of illicit Arab-Israeli trade. The restrictions were greatly relaxed due to international criticism of the boycott of an entire state not involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict, but they were not completely eliminated.
The boycott of third parties (secondary boycott) originally applied solely to funds and strategic commodities. However, on November 28 of 1953, Egypt increased its disruption of Israeli maritime trade by expanding its list of "contraband" to include "foodstuffs and all other commodities likely to strengthen the potential of the Zionists in Palestine in any way whatsoever."
By 1953 the Arab boycott was a well-established feature of international trade relations, and becoming more brazen. In early 1953 the first reports were released about Arab attempts to make American and European airlines boycott Israel by refusing to service Israelis or land in Israel, or at minimum to not invest in Israel. This marked another fundamental shift in boycott policy wherein Arab states would pressure third party states agree to boycott Israel— the tertiary boycott. However, these rudimentary efforts were unsuccessful and the airline boycotts remained isolated to the Arab world.
On 11 December 1954 the Arab League Council passed Resolution 849, approving the Unified Law on the Boycott of Israel. The provisions of this resolution, implemented in legislation by most member states over the following year, formalized the application of the boycott in the Arab States uniformly. The resolution contained new recommendations prohibiting Arab entities and individuals from dealing with agencies of persons working for Israel, and with foreign companies and organizations with interests, agencies, or branches in Israel. The export of Arab goods to countries to be re-exported to Israel was criminalized with a penalty of large fines and hard labor.
Further Intensification of the Boycott and International Capitulation to Tertiary Boycotts
In the mid-1950s boycott activities intensified, and gained a new and highly powerful ally — the Soviet Union. During Israel's early years it was seen by the USSR as a potential ally due to the significant socialist aspirations advocated by its founders and applied in its conception. The Soviet Union was one of the first countries to recognize Israel de jure upon its establishment in 1948. However, as Israel's democratic nature became evident and its ties with Western states were solidified, the Soviet Union would view Israel as an enemy in the West vs. East dichotomy of the Cold War. Instead, the Soviet Union would form an alliance with the revolutionary Arab Regimes, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, and later in the decade Iraq, united in Anti-American and Anti-Israel political objectives. The clout of the Soviet Union gave the boycott new international legitimacy and guaranteed anti-boycott resolutions a veto at the UN Security Council. The tertiary boycott, formerly ignored as an affront to international trade relations, became enforceable through the sheer political and economic power of the USSR. In 1958 Air France capitulated to Arab League demands after being denied of overflight and landing rights in Arab states for eighteen months due to its alleged investment in Israeli development projects. With the success of the first tertiary boycott the Arab League became increasingly demanding of uninvolved states to adhere to its boycott of Israel. In 1958 the boycott was expanded to prohibit all goods exported from a third state identical to goods imported by the state from Israel, including goods produced with Israeli raw materials or components. In the same year, ships visiting an Arab port and an Israeli port within the same trip were blacklisted.
Height of the Boycott — the Oil Crisis
Weakening of the Boycott
A number of companies found loopholes around the boycott and managed to trade with both Israel and the Arab world. Some firms that did business with Arab countries officially complied with the boycott, but in practice subcontracted their trade with Israel to companies already blacklisted by the Arab states, while others did business with Israel through divisions or affiliates whose links to the company were disguised. Others strove to cultivate good personal relationships with Arab leaders, who would allow them to trade with Israel without economic repercussions in their own countries as a favor. Some firms placed on the blacklist managed to lobby or buy their way off it.
Israel responded to the boycott by creating its own blacklist of firms that respected the boycott, and circulated them around the world to encourage Jewish-owned businesses to avoid dealing with them. In addition, Israel supporters in some Western countries managed to get anti-boycott laws passed, but they typically went unenforced everywhere except the United States. In 1977 the United States Congress passed a law that President Jimmy Carter signed, which made it a criminal offense to adhere to the boycott and imposed fines on American companies that were found to be complying with it. For the surveillance after the implementation of this law, an office called the "Office of Antiboycott Compliance" was opened in the US Department of Commerce. Despite the fines, there were some American companies (like McDonald's) which preferred to pay the fines and continue boycotting Israel rather than lose their business with the Arab world.
Israel also took a series of steps to evade the embargo and clandestinely trade with the Arab world. Front companies in third countries were set up, which imported goods, then re-exported them to Arab countries with false labels and certificates of origin. In other cases, foreign companies would purchase Israeli technology and materials, use them to assemble completed products, and export them to Arab countries while concealing this fact from their customers. Arrangements with American companies were worked out where the American companies would buy goods from Israeli affiliates and export them as American-made goods. Israeli ships were re-flagged as ships of other nations and provided with faked bills of landing so they could directly export goods to the Arab and Muslim world. Greece and Cyprus were particularly popular hubs for smuggling Israeli goods into the Arab world due to their location, multilateral economic connections, large merchant fleets, and Cyprus' corporate and bank secrecy laws.
Egypt was the first nation to abandon boycott, doing so in 1980 after signing a peace treaty with Israel the previous year. After more or less consistently adhering to the practice of seizing cargo bound for Israel since 1950, the Straights of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba were opened to Israeli trade and Israeli cargo went unmolested for the first time in decades. Afterwards, Egypt became a convenient destination to smuggle Israeli goods into the rest of the Arab world, as Israeli goods could be legally imported into Egypt and relabeled as Egyptian for trade with other Arab countries, although the treaty led to other Arab countries becoming more suspicious of Egyptian products. By the late 1980s, Israel's counter-measures against the boycott were proving a success, and the Boycott Office estimated that between $750 million to $1 billion worth of Israeli goods, or about 10% of Israel's exports at the time, were reaching Arab markets per year.
In 1995, a year after it signed a peace treaty with Israel, Jordan lifted its boycott. The Palestinian Authority likewise agreed not to abide by the boycott that same year. In 1994 several of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf abandoned the secondary and tertiary boycotts. The period also saw "low-level diplomatic relations" between Israel and Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, and Qatar. In 1994, following the Oslo Peace Accords, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) states, ended their participation in the Arab boycott against Israel. The move prompted a surge of investment in Israel, and resulted in the initiation of joint cooperation projects between Israel and Arab countries. In 1996, the GCC states recognized that total elimination of the boycott is a necessary step for peace and economic development in the region. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia do not enforce the boycott. Mauritania, which never applied the boycott, established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1999. Saudi Arabia had pledged to end its economic boycott as a condition for membership in the World Trade Organization but came back on the promise following its acceptance into the organization in December 11, 2005.
As the boycott was relaxed (or rather, not as stringently enforced) starting in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many companies which previously stayed out of the Israeli market had entered it, e.g. McDonald's and Nestlé. In 1985, the ban was lifted on Ford, which had been in place since the company had opened an assembly plant in Israel, and Colgate-Palmolive, although five other companies were added to the blacklist. Toyota began selling cars in Israel in 1991, although it claimed that it had never complied with the boycott, arguing that it did not have the resources to sell cars in the country.
At one point the boycott was observed by the entire Arab League. Today, most Arab states, Syria being the exception, no longer attempt to enforce the secondary or tertiary boycotts. Syria, Lebanon, and Iran (though not an Arab state) are the only states which actively enforce the primary boycott. The Central Boycott Office has become obsolete. With the vast majority of Arab states benefiting from trade with Israel, any "boycott" has become symbolic in nature, limited to bureaucratic slights such as passport restrictions.
Some countries refuse entry to travelers using an Israeli passport or with any Israeli stamp in their passport. The stamp may be a visa stamp, or a stamp on entry or departure. It can also include a stamp of another country which indicates that the person has entered Israel. For example, if an Egyptian departure stamp is used in any passport at the Taba Crossing, that is an indication that the person entered Israel.
Countries with restrictions in place
|Country||Israeli passport||Israeli stamps or any other indication of a connection with Israel|
|Iran||Admission refused||Admission refused|
|Iraq||Admission refused||Admission refused|
|Kuwait||Admission refused||Admission occasionally refused|
|Lebanon||Admission refused||Admission refused|
|Libya||Admission refused||Admission refused|
|Malaysia||Admission refused unless holding a letter of approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs||
|Oman||Admission refused||Admission occasionally refused|
||Admission occasionally refused|
|Saudi Arabia||Admission refused||Admission refused|
|Sudan||Admission refused||Admission refused|
|Syria||Admission refused||Admission refused|
|United Arab Emirates||Admission refused||
|Yemen||Admission refused||Admission refused|
Effects of the Boycott
Although it cannot be estimated to what extent the boycott hurt Israel's economy, the boycott cannot be said to have affected it to the extent the Arabs intended. Israel's economy has performed relatively well since 1948, achieving a higher GDP per capita than that of all Arab countries except for the oil-rich gulf states of Kuwait and Qatar. The boycott nevertheless has undoubtedly harmed Israel to some extent. The Israeli Chamber of Commerce estimates that with the boycott Israeli exports are 10 percent less than they would be without the boycott and investment in Israel likewise 10 percent lower.
Arab states suffer economically from the boycott as well. In its report on the cost of conflict in the Middle East, Strategic Foresight Group estimates that Arab states lost an opportunity to export $10 billion worth of goods to Israel between 2000-2010. Moreover, the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and Iran together stand to lose $30 billion as the opportunity cost of not exporting oil to Israel in the second half of the decade.
Because of the boycott, certain products which were ubiquitous elsewhere in the world, such as Pepsi, McDonald's and most Japanese cars were not to be found in Israel until the boycott began waning in the late 1980s. A similar situation existed in the Arab world which boycotted the products of companies that were selling in Israel as in the case of Coca-Cola, Ford and Revlon.
Despite the boycott, Israeli goods often do make it to Arab markets in boycott countries. The boycott evasion tactic of using a third country as a front to export Israeli goods to the Arab and Muslim world has still been used. In addition, Israeli products are not heavily boycotted in the Palestinian territories and often make it into the larger Arab world through the Palestinians.
Foreign reactions to the boycott
The United States adopted two anti-boycott laws that seek to counteract the participation of U.S. citizens in other nation's economic boycotts or embargoes (although these laws do not restrict the ability to engage in disinvestment campaigns.) These laws are the 1977 amendments to the Export Administration Act (EAA) and the Ribicoff Amendment to the Tax Reform Act of 1976 (TRA). The antiboycott provisions of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) apply to all "U.S. persons," defined to include individuals and companies located in the United States and their foreign affiliates, and prohibit them to participate in unsanctioned boycotts against other nations, punishable by fines of up to $50,000 or five times the value of the exports involved or jail term of up to 10 years.
Conduct that may be penalized under the TRA and/or prohibited under the EAR includes:
- Agreements to refuse or actual refusal to do business with or in Israel or with blacklisted companies.
- Agreements to discriminate or actual discrimination against other persons based on race, religion, sex, national origin or nationality.
- Agreements to furnish or actual furnishing of information about business relationships with or in Israel or with blacklisted companies.
- Agreements to furnish or actual furnishing of information about the race, religion, sex, or national origin of another person.
Of all the Western countries, only the United Kingdom has not passed legislation against the Arab boycott. Despite this, many companies in Western nations practice some degree of compliance with the boycott.
Notable Targets of the Blacklist
The following is a list of notable people, corporations, and works which were at any time blacklisted in the Arab world.
- Marilyn Monroe, for "pronounced pro-Israeli sympathies" and "help[ing] to collect donations for Israel" (also converted to Judaism)
- Elizabeth Taylor, for purchasing Israeli bonds (also converted to Judaism)
- Louis Armstrong, for performing in Israel
- Edward G. Robinson, for "pronounced pro-Israeli sympathies" and "help[ing] to collect donations for Israel" (also Jewish)
- Eartha Kitt, for "pronounced pro-Israeli sympathies" and "help[ing] to collect donations for Israel"
- Frank Sinatra, due to his pro-Jewish and pro-Israel activism
- Harry Belafonte
- Helen Hayes
- Kirk Douglas
- Jerry Lewis
- Paul Newman
- Sophia Loren
- Phil Silvers
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- This article incorporates public domain material from the Congressional Research Service document "Arab League Boycott of Israel.".
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- Toyota to Sell Cars in Israel, Officials Say, The New York Times, April 11, 1991
- "Visa Information for Algeria: Holders of Normal Passports from Israel". Timatic. International Air Transport Association (IATA).
- "Visa Information for Bangladesh: Holders of Normal Passports from Israel". Timatic. International Air Transport Association (IATA).
- "Visa Information for Brunei Darussalam: Holders of Normal Passports from Israel". Timatic. International Air Transport Association (IATA).
- "Visa Information for Djibouti: Holders of Normal Passports from Israel". Timatic. International Air Transport Association (IATA).
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- "Visa Information for Lebanon: Holders of Normal Passports from Israel". Timatic. International Air Transport Association (IATA).
- "Visa Information for Libyan Arab Jamahiriya: Holders of Normal Passports from Israel". Timatic. International Air Transport Association (IATA).
- "Visa Information for Malaysia: Holders of Normal Passports from Israel". Timatic. International Air Transport Association (IATA).
- "Visa Information for Oman: Holders of Normal Passports from Israel". Timatic. International Air Transport Association (IATA).
- "Visa Information for Pakistan: Holders of Normal Passports from Israel". Timatic. International Air Transport Association (IATA).
- "Visa Information for Saudi Arabia: Holders of Normal Passports from Israel". Timatic. International Air Transport Association (IATA).
- "Visa Information for Sudan: Holders of Normal Passports from Israel". Timatic. International Air Transport Association (IATA).
- "Visa Information for Syrian Arab Republic: Holders of Normal Passports from Israel". Timatic. International Air Transport Association (IATA).
- "Visa Information for United Arab Emirates: Holders of Normal Passports from Israel". Timatic. International Air Transport Association (IATA).
- "Visa Information for Yemen: Holders of Normal Passports from Israel". Timatic. International Air Transport Association (IATA).
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- Impact of U.S. Policy on the Arab League Boycott of Israel by Adam B. Cordover