The Middle East: The Arab Boycott of Israel

Courtesy Reuters

For 30 years, members of the League of Arab States (Arab League) have engaged in a boycott of Israel, a country with which they have been at war and remain in a state of hostility. As an instrument of this state of war, the boycott is intended to prevent Arab states and discourage non-Arabs from directly or indirectly contributing to Israel's economic and military strength.

For most of its existence, the boycott has been a practically dormant dimension of Israeli-Arab politics and almost unknown and irrelevant to the United States. During its first 20 years there was no U.S. legislation concerning it and for the next decade, until last year, it was the subject of but one amendment to a U.S. law.

The recrudescence of the boycott as a national and international issue results most directly from the increased importance of the Arab nations and consequently of the Arab-Israeli conflict in world affairs. The intensified Western recognition of the importance of Middle East oil reserves, the extraordinary new financial power of the Arabs and the emergence of the area as a growth market have altered the positions of all parties with an interest in the boycott and in the Arab-Israeli conflict of which the boycott is an integral part.

The Arab boycott is a controversial issue chiefly in the United States. It is not an issue among the Arabs who created it or even among the Europeans and Japanese who also labor under it. It is only beginning to become a real issue in Israel, which is the object of it. In fact, as little as two years ago the Israeli Minister of Commerce, Chaim Bar-Lev, said during a Washington visit: "The Arab boycott means nothing to us. It has no effect on Israel."

As in many other aspects of the Middle East conflict, the United States finds itself in the middle. The Arab states, previously of significant economic interest only to oil companies and to exporters of a relatively narrow

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