Ireland’s New BDS Bill Will Harm Israel and American Tech Giants

Irish parliamentarians are on the verge of finalizing legislation that would damage the state of Israel and large American technology companies. The bill in question, the “Control of Economic Activity Bill” would effectively ban Irish citizens and incorporated firms from importing or selling products and services in ‘occupied’ Israeli territories.

As a result, American companies would be forced into the untenable position of violating US law by partaking in such a boycott or continuing operations as normal and being in violation of the pending Irish law. Thankfully, there may still time to stop this disastrous piece of legislation through extensive lobbying and vocal condemnation. American political and business leaders must move quickly.

Up to this point, the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement hasn’t been able to impact Israel’s rapid growth. There has been some pain, sure. Celebrities like Lana Del Rey and others have canceled appearances at concerts. Foreign investment slowed slightly in 2014 partially due to BDS.

Still, Israel has doubled its GDP since the BDS movement formed in July 2005. And yet, as my favorite Jedi once said “a great disturbance in the force” may be coming. If the Irish parliament moves forward with this legislation, the damage to Israel could be consequential.

To understand the roots of the bill, let’s take a look at the mastermind who is driving it, Senator Frances Black.

A quick examination of her background reveals that Black holds radical anti-Israel positions. Most notably, she signed a letter in June 2016calling for a total boycott of all Israeli goods and services. You read that correctly: a complete boycott.

It is fair to ask why Black’s legislation is so concerning. What’s different this time — don’t countries across the globe already boycott Israel?

True, but the stakes here are much higher. Because Ireland is home to corporate offices and subsidiaries of many important American technology firms. Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft are a few big names on a longer list.

Furthermore, many of these same companies also have corporate infrastructure, workers, and R&D hubs in Israel. Specifically, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft all have infrastructure in the Jewish state.

Here’s where the catch-22 comes in: an American company cannot legally participate in a boycott that isn’t backed by the US government. As of today, America isn’t actively boycotting Israel.

So, for example, Facebook would be forced to either violate US law or the new Irish law. Considering the substantial investment that many American tech giants have made in Ireland and Israel, it would put these firms in a comprising position.

Advocates of Black’s bill will likely argue that many of these firms won’t be impacted since their facilities are located in Tel Aviv, not ‘occupied’ territories. On the contrary, legal experts and Ireland’s own top lawyer dispute this claim.

Companies with even a single employee teleworking in east Jerusalem would be operating in a gray zone and potentially be in jeopardy, according to Odre Kittrie a Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and respected legal scholar.

“While Ireland considers east Jerusalem an Israeli settlement, the U.S. government recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. If Apple fires an engineer because it wants to avoid problems with Irish law and he insists on telecommuting from his east Jerusalem home, would Apple be violating U.S. law by participating in Ireland’s boycott of Israeli settlements?” Kittrie told me in a written statement.

Due to this ambiguity, Ireland’s own Attorney General Séamus expressed his doubts about the legislation. In a private statement, Séamus noted how he doesn’t believe the “bill is legally sound.”

Still, it’s unlikely Black and her allies will budge. So, it’s time for America to turn up the pressure value.

It should be noted that Dublin and Washington maintain strong trade relations with nearly 23 percent of Irish exports going to the US. President Trump, a strong supporter of Israel, should lambast Ireland for its treatment of one of America’s closest allies. We’ve seen what can happen to a foreign economy when Trump focuses his twitter fire on it.

Congressional leaders should also follow suit and draft a bipartisan letter condemning the bill and promising retaliatory action if it moves forward.

Business executives also must speak up. If these large tech companies threatened to abandon their Irish operations, politicians would surely reconsider.

While the legislation remains in limbo, America can still pressure Ireland to ‘kill the bill’. Mr. President, Congress, and CEOs – time to get to work.

About the Author
Alexander W. Titus is a Public Interest Fellow based out of Washington, DC.
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