Ramallah: The US Congress is considering a bill which would give Israel a unique status economically and which would seek to protect it from sanctions.

The bill, proposed in February by Republican House of Representatives member Peter Roskam from Illinois, contains a number of counter actions against countries, UN organisations and private companies who boycott Israeli products or services.

The Israeli media has claimed that the bill “has garnered wide support from both Republicans and Democrats in the House.”

The bill is an attempt to build on the free trade agreement between Israel and the United States.

Commentators suggest that the legislation could persuade European countries to not promote initiatives by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS).

Yousef Munayyer, the director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (End the Occupation) said, “This legislation basically offers instructions from Congress to US trade negotiators who are engaged in negotiations with the EU and instructs them to discourage European states from boycotting Israel in any way.”

“It does not obligate trade negotiators to do anything and does not have any provisions in it regarding government spending which is Congress’ only real instrument of leverage. In short, this legislation will have little impact on its own but it may serve to send a message to European states that there is a potential for increased costs if they continue down the line of pressuring Israel. The proponents of this bill are defending Israel’s abuses of international law and human rights at the expense of US trade policy.”

“For those who support BDS it signals the beginning of what is likely to be an ongoing effort in Congress to repress BDS efforts,” Munayyer said in an interview with Gulf News. “Yes, the US already has law regarding boycott but these relate very specifically to the participation of US companies in foreign boycotts unsanctioned by the United States. Those laws tell US companies what they can and cannot do. This new legislation is attempted to influence not US companies, but the economic policies of foreign states.”

Anna Baltzer, an organizer of the BDS campaign said of the proposed US legislation, “The desperate, sneaky maneuvering of US officials trying to counter BDS shows just how powerful this rights-based, Palestinian-led movement has become, and what a threat it poses to the status quo.”

Commenting on previous anti-boycott US legislation, Baltzer told Gulf News that “the anti-boycott provisions of the Export Administration Act expired more than a decade ago and, even if revived, apply only to boycotts called by foreign companies. In contrast, BDS is a grassroots, independent, Palestinian civil society-led movement of everyday people of conscience campaigning worldwide to end international complicity in the Israeli occupation and apartheid, with the goals of freedom, justice and equality for all.”

The Roskam bill “opposes politically motivated actions that penalise or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel such as boycotts, divestment or sanctions.”

Further, it maintains that “the boycott, divestment, and sanctioning of Israel by governments, governmental bodies, quasi-governmental bodies, international organizations, and other such entities is contrary to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) principle of non-discrimination.”