Order Code RS22424
Updated May 19, 2006
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Arab League Boycott of Israel
Martin A. Weiss
Analyst in International Trade and Finance
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
The Arab League has maintained an official boycott of Israeli companies and
Israeli-made goods since the founding of Israel in 1948. The United States actively
opposes the boycott and works on both bilateral and multilateral fronts to end it. The
U.S. government also enforces laws that prohibit U.S. firms from participating in the
boycott. This report will be updated as events warrant.
The Arab League is an umbrella organization comprising 23 Middle Eastern and
African countries and entities.1 The League was founded in 1944, and in 1945 began a
boycott of Zionist goods and services in the British mandate territory of Palestine. In
1948, following the war establishing Israel’s independence, the boycott was formalized
against the state of Israel and broadened to include non-Israelis who maintain economic
relations with Israel or who are perceived to support it. The boycott is administered by
the Damascus-based Central Boycott Office (CBO), a specialized bureau of the Arab
The U.S. government has often been at the forefront of international efforts to end
enforcement of the boycott and to seek the Arab League’s revocation of it. U.S.
legislative action related to the boycott dates from 1959 and includes multiple statutory
provisions expressing U.S. opposition to the boycott, usually in foreign assistance
legislation. In 1965, mandatory reporting of any requests for U.S. companies to
participate in the boycott was adopted. In 1977, Congress passed laws making it illegal
for U.S. companies to cooperate with the boycott and authorizing the imposition of civil
and criminal penalties against U.S. violators. In addition, taxpayers who cooperate with
the boycott are subject to the loss of tax benefits that the U.S. government provides to
exporters. U.S. regulations define cooperating with the boycott as: (1) agreeing to or
actually refusing to do business in Israel or with a blacklisted company; (2) agreeing to
or actually discriminating against other persons based on race, religion, sex, national
origin or nationality; (3) agreeing to or actually furnishing information about business
Members are: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan,
Morocco, Tunisia, Kuwait, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Mauritania,
Somalia, Palestinian Authority, Djibouti, and Comoros. In 2003, Eritrea joined the Arab League
as an observer.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
relationships in Israel or with blacklisted companies; and (4) agreeing to or actually
furnishing information about the race, religion, sex, or national origin of another person.
The U.S. government participates in bilateral and multilateral negotiations with
Arab League members regarding the boycott. Some Members of Congress periodically
introduce legislation condemning the boycott and calling for increased antiboycott efforts.
Most recently, Representative E. Clay Shaw, Jr., introduced a concurrent resolution
(H.Con.Res. 370) expressing the sense of Congress that Saudi Arabia, which joined the
World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2005, should fully live up to its WTO commitments
and end all aspects of any boycott on Israel. The resolution passed the House
unanimously on April 5, 2006 and was received in the Senate and referred to the
Committee on Finance.
Status of the Boycott and its Enforcement
There are three tiers to the boycott. The primary boycott prohibits the importation
of Israeli-origin goods and services into boycotting countries. The secondary boycott
prohibits individuals, as well as private and public sector firms and organizations, in
member countries from engaging in business with any entity that does business in Israel.
The Arab League maintains a blacklist of such firms. The tertiary boycott prohibits any
entity in a member country from doing business with a company or individual that has
business dealings with U.S. or other firms on the Arab League blacklist.
The Arab League does not enforce the boycott itself and boycott regulations are not
binding on member states. However, the regulations have been the model for various
laws implemented by member countries. Under the League’s recommendations, member
countries should demand certificates of origin on all goods acquired from suppliers to
ensure that such goods meet all aspects of the boycott.
Overall enforcement of the boycott by member countries is sporadic. Some Arab
League members have limited trading relations with Israel. The Arab League does not
formally or publicly state which countries enforce the boycott and which do not. Some
Arab League member governments have maintained that only the Arab League, as the
formal body enforcing the boycott, can revoke the boycott. Nonetheless, adherence to the
boycott is an individual matter for each Arab League member and enforcement varies by
There are indications that some member countries publicly support the boycott while
continuing to quietly trade with Israel. According to Doron Peskin, head of research at
InfoProd, a consulting firm for foreign and Israeli companies specializing in trade to Arab
states, “the Arab boycott is now just lip service.”2 This sentiment has been echoed by
Arab officials, albeit anonymously. One official commented to the Egyptian newspaper
Al-Ahram that, “boycotting Israel is something that we talk about and include in our
Orly Halpern, “Arab Boycott Largely Reduced to ‘Lip Service,’” Jerusalem Post, February 28,
official documents but it is not something that we actually carry out — at least not in most
Others note that enforcement of the boycott waxes and wanes with the level of
intensity of the Israeli-Palestinian issue and that currently interest in boycott enforcement
among Arab countries may be increasing. In May 2006, the Arab League held its
biannual conference on the boycott in Damascus, Syria. Fourteen of the 23 Arab League
members sent representatives to the meeting. Among those absent from the discussions
were Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, and Mauritania.4
Some states and entities have formally ended the boycott, or at least some aspects
of it. Egypt (1979), the Palestinian Authority (1993), and Jordan (1994) signed peace
treaties or agreements that ended the boycott.5 Mauritania, which never applied the
boycott, established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1999. In addition, Algeria,
Morocco, and Tunisia do not enforce the boycott.6 In 1994, the member countries of the
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and
the United Arab Emirates — announced that they would only enforce the primary boycott
and in 1996, recognized that total elimination of the boycott is a necessary step for peace
and economic development in the region. However, U.S. companies continue to receive
requests to cooperate with the boycott from GCC member countries.
Since the boycott is sporadically applied and ambiguously enforced, its effectiveness,
measured by capital or revenue denied to Israel by companies adhering to the boycott, is
difficult to measure. The effect of the primary boycott appears limited since intra-regional
trade is small.7 Nonetheless, there is some limited trade between Israel and its Arab
neighbors. In 2004, according to the Manufacturers Association of Israel (IMA), Israeli
exports to Arab countries and entities (mainly Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian
Authority) totaled $192 million.8 Enforcement of the secondary and tertiary boycotts have
decreased over time, reducing their effect. This can be seen by a 1996 study that looked
at the effect of the Arab boycott on the Israeli economy through the automobile market.
Following a relaxation of boycott enforcement in the late 1980s through the early 1990s,
foreign countries began exporting cars to Israel for the first time. The study found that
if the boycott had continued to be enforced, and these cars did not enter the Israeli market,
Dina Ezzat, “Boycott Israel? Not so simple,” Al-Ahram Weekly Online, April 11-17, 2002.
Associated Press and Jerusalem Post Staff, “Boycott committee calls for tighter measures
against Israel,” Jerusalem Post, May 15, 2006.
Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, March 26, 1979, Article III, paragraph 3; Treaty of Peace between
the State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, October 26, 1994, Article 7, Section
2, paragraph a; Declaration of Principles, September 10, 1993.
2006 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, United States Trade
Representative, March 31, 2006.
For an overview of intra-regional trade, see Hassan Al-Atrash and Tarik Yousef, “Intra-Arab
Trade: Is it Too Little?,” World Bank Working Paper WP/00/10, January 2000.
“Exports from Israel Up, Up, Up!,” Bridges for Peace, June 27, 2005. U.S. efforts to increase
trade in the region include the Qualified Industrial Zone (QIZ) program, which allows goods
jointly produced by Israel and either Jordan or Egypt to enter the United States duty free. See
CRS Report RS22002, Qualifying Industrial Zones in Jordan and Egypt.
the Israeli car market would have been 12% smaller leading to a $790 price increase per
car. Total welfare loss for the study year, 1994, would have been $89 million.9 Thus it
appears that since intra-regional trade is small, and that the secondary and primary
boycotts are not aggressively enforced, the boycott may not currently have an extensive
effect on the Israeli economy.
U.S. Activity to End the Arab League Boycott of Israel
The U.S. government officially opposes the boycott and works to end its
enforcement. For many years, language has been included in the foreign operations
appropriations acts concerning the boycott. Section 535 of the Foreign Operations,
Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2006 (P.L. 109-102), states
that it is the sense of Congress that (1) the Arab League boycott is an impediment to peace
in the region and to United States investment and trade in the region; (2) the boycott
should be revoked and the CBO disbanded; (3) all Arab League states should normalize
relations with Israel; and (4) the President and the Secretary of State should continue
vigorously to oppose the boycott and encourage Arab states to assume normal trading
relations with Israel. U.S. embassies and government officials are to raise the boycott
with host country officials, noting the persistence of illegal boycott requests and the
impact on both U.S. firms and on the countries’ ability to expand trade and investment.
The U.S. government also works to end the boycott through negotiating bilateral
trade agreements and through WTO accession agreements. In 2005 and 2006,
respectively, Bahrain and Oman agreed to drop the boycott as a provision of their free
trade agreements (FTA) with the United States. (The President has yet to submit to
Congress the proposed Oman FTA.) The United States is also negotiating an FTA with
the United Arab Emirates, and their enforcement of the boycott has been a contentious
issue during the negotiations. Finally, Saudi Arabia officially dropped the boycott as a
condition of joining the World Trade Organization in December 2005. However, it
appears that these countries may continue to sporadically enforce the boycott despite their
pledges to abandon it. U.S. companies continue to receive requests to participate in the
boycott from all of these countries, and Saudi Arabia has discussed increasing boycott
efforts against Israel despite their WTO obligations.10
U.S. Antiboycott Laws. The United States passed antiboycott legislation in the
late 1970s to discourage U.S. individuals from cooperating with the secondary and
tertiary boycotts.11 These laws are currently included in the Export Administration Act
Chaim Fershtman and Neil Gandal, “The Effect of the Arab Boycott on Israel: The Automobile
Market,” Tel Aviv University, January 1996.
CRS Report RS21846, U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement; CRS Report RL33328, Proposed
U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement and CRS Issue Brief IB93113, Saudi Arabia: Current Issues
and U.S. Relations. See also CRS Issue Brief IB82008, Israel: Background and Relations with
the United States.
Although U.S. legislation and practices were designed to counteract the Arab League boycott
of Israel, in practice, they apply to all non-sanctioned boycotts.
of 1979 (EAA) and the Ribicoff Amendment to the Tax Reform Act of 1976 (TRA).12
The export-related antiboycott provisions are administered by the Department of
Commerce and prohibit U.S. persons from participating in the boycott. The Internal
Revenue Service (IRS) administers tax-related antiboycott regulations that deny tax
benefits to U.S. taxpayers that participate in the boycott.
Export-Related Antiboycott Legislation. Regulations included in section 8
of the EAA prohibits any U.S. person or company from complying with an unsanctioned
foreign boycott and requires them to report requests to comply with a boycott they have
received. Such requests must be reported quarterly to the Department of Commerce’s
Office of Antiboycott Compliance (OAC) in the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS).
These regulations are implemented in part 760 of the Department of Commerce’s Export
Administration Regulations (EAR).
The EAA prescribes penalties that may be imposed for violation of the antiboycott
regulations. Civil penalties for violating the antiboycott provisions are a maximum fine
of $10,000 per violation and a potential loss of export privileges for a period of time.
Particularly egregious cases may be referred to the Department of Justice for criminal
prosecution. Criminal penalties imposed for each violation can include a fine of up to
$50,000 or five times the value of the exports involved, whichever is greater, or
imprisonment for up to five years, or both. Willful violations, where the violator has
knowledge that the items are also intended for any country to which exports are restricted
for national security or foreign policy purposes, are punishable by fines up to $250,000
or imprisonment for up to ten years.
The Commerce Department reports that between October 2004 and September 2005,
U.S. individuals reported 1,037 requests to comply with the boycott from 20 countries,
including both members and non-members of the Arab League (Table 2). The UAE is
the largest requester of compliance with the boycott with 408 requests during the period.
Table 2. Boycott Requests Received by U.S. Companies
(October 2004 - September 2005)
Number of Requests to Comply with
the Secondary and Tertiary Boycotts
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Other (Algeria, India, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria,
Oman, Pakistan, Tunisia, and Yemen)
Section 8 of The Export Administration Act of 1979 (P.L. 96-72; 50 U.S.C. app. §2407) has
expired but its provisions are continued under the authorization granted to the President in the
National Emergencies Act (NEA) (P.L. 94-412; 50 U.S.C. §1601-1651) and the International
Economic Emergency Powers Act (IEEPA) (P.L. 95-223; 50 U.S.C. app. §2407), most recently
under Executive Order 13222 signed August 17, 2001 (66 F.R. 44025, August 22, 2001). Export
regulations are at 15 C.F.R. 760.1 et seq. The Ribicoff Amendment to the Tax Reform Act of
1976 (P.L. 94-455) added section 999 to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (26
U.S.C. §1 et seq). Tax regulations are at 26 C.F.R. §7.999-1.
Number of Requests to Comply with
the Secondary and Tertiary Boycotts
Source: Department of Commerce.
In 2005, the Commerce Department reported closing cases against five companies
for violations of U.S. antiboycott laws. The violations included furnishing prohibited
business information to boycott-enforcing countries and failing to report boycott-related
requests. The civil penalties ranged from $6,000 to $22,500 and totaled $57,500. In
addition, it appears that one criminal penalty was imposed: a $500,000 fine on Maine
Biological Labs for complying with the boycott and other violations of IEEPA.
Tax-Related Antiboycott Legislation. The Ribicoff Amendment to the TRA
added section 999 to the Internal Revenue Code. This section denies various tax benefits
normally available to exporters if they participate in the boycott. In addition, the IRS
requires U.S. taxpayers to report operations in, with, or related to countries that the
Treasury Department includes on their annual list of countries that may require
participation in an international boycott, and with any other country from which they
receive a request to participate in a boycott.13
Denying tax benefits to U.S. firms that participate in the boycott appears to be an
effective antiboycott strategy. According to one study, U.S. legislation reduces overall
participation in the boycott by U.S. taxpayers by between 15 and 30%.14 However, the
effectiveness of U.S. antiboycott tax legislation may diminish since the U.S. government
is reducing export tax benefits that are available to U.S.-based companies due to
complaints brought to the WTO by the European Union.15
The current list is Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab
Emirates, and Yemen. “List of the Countries Requiring Cooperation with an International
Boycott, Department of the Treasury,” Department of the Treasury, 69 F.R. 242, December 17,
James R. Hines, Jr., “Taxed Avoidance: American Participation in Unsanctioned International
Boycotts,” NBER Working Paper 6116, July 1997.
See CRS Report RS20746, Export Tax Benefits and the WTO: The Extraterritorial Income
Exclusion and Foreign Sales Corporations.