The New York Times' coverage of Congressional antics related to the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation has ignored so many critical aspects of the bill that it might be time for the "paper of record" to change its motto from "All the news that's fit to print" to "All the news we think fits, we print".
On March 2nd, the Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to insert an amendment into the TPA legislation. According to its principal sponsor, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), the amendment would "include among the principal negotiating objectives of the United States regarding commercial partnerships...discouraging activity that... penalizes, or otherwise limits commercial relations with Israel". The intended targets of this effort are the countries of the European Union that have called on Israel to clearly mark whether products they export originate in settlements in occupied Palestinian lands.
For the first 14 years of the occupation, the US called Israeli settlement construction "illegal". Beginning with the Reagan Administration, however, the US dumbed down its language referring to settlements as "unhelpful", "illegitimate", or "an obstacle to peace". Europe, on the other hand, has been consistent in affirming the international consensus position that such settlements are in violation of international law.
Having wearied of Israel's refusal to abide by conventions that ban the expropriation of or transfer of population into occupied lands, Europe's actions are intended to send a clear message of displeasure with Israel's continued flagrant violation of these laws as well as making a statement that Europe will not be party to Israel's efforts to derive economic benefits from the settlements.
Fearing that European pressure will only grow as Israel's government rejects efforts to end its occupation activities, AIPAC (Washington's pro-Israel lobby) made it a legislative priority to suborn the US government making it a defender Israel's settlement policies. Enter Ben Cardin and his colleagues.
At the behest of AIPAC, Cardin introduced his amendment which defines the actions that US trade officials must include in negotiating trade arrangements with EU partners in order to discourage agreements with countries that have instituted measures "that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel or person's doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories." Similar, though more far-reaching, language has also been inserted in House and Senate legislation governing US custom's authorization.
It is especially troubling that the words "in Israeli-controlled territories" have been inserted in these amendments. This language, which equates Israel with the territories Israel occupied in 1967, replicates the language recently used by Israel's Supreme Court in a controversial ruling against any advocacy of boycott, divestment, or sanctions activity in Israel. The TPA, as amended, will, for the first time, make the US complicit in shielding Israel's settlement activity from any international scrutiny or penalty.
As disturbing as is this effort to defend Israel's behavior and to pit the US against its European trading partners is the disingenuous way Members of Congress have sought to explain their actions.
Israel is one of America's closest allies and the only stable democracy in the Middle East. We may not agree with every Israeli policy, but we cannot allow our potential trading partners in the EU to fall prey to efforts that threaten Israel's existence.
Senator Rob Portman (R-OH):
This amendment sends a clear message that if you want to be an economic partner with the United States, you cannot support politically motivated boycotts [that] attempt to weaken Israel.
Congressman Peter Roskam (R-OH):
This measure will make combating these boycotts a principal trade objective of the United States in our negotiations with the EU...countries seeking free trade with the United States cannot participate in...economic warfare against Israel.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR):
We shouldn't let American trade policy be used in any kind of fashion that would in some ways show a tolerance for that kind of anti-Semitism.
Contrary to these outrageous claims, EU measures are not "economic warfare", nor are they intended to "weaken" or "threaten the existence of Israel", and they are most certainly not displays of "anti-Semitism". Rather they are Europe's modest attempt to insure that they do not unwittingly economically underwrite illegal settlement activity that they cannot support. In this context, it is worth noting that the Administrations of both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton also applied economic pressures to dissociate the US from Israeli settlement construction by annually deducting the amount Israel spent on such activity from the US loan guarantees that would be available to Israel to resettle Russian Jews. Were these two presidents also guilty of "economic warfare" and "anti-Semitism"?
The bottom line is that if Congress passes the TPA legislation and it is signed into law with the Cardin amendment intact: the US will be defending Israeli settlements against European pressure; we will be making our trade relations with our European allies conditional on their conducting trade with Israeli settlements, in contravention of their own long-standing policy; and we will, for the first time, establish, as US policy, the conflation of Israel with the territory it has occupied, expropriated, and settled since 1967.
As momentous as these changes in US policy will be, readers of the New York Times have been kept in the dark. Since the Cardin amendment was first inserted in the TPA bill, over 60 articles have appeared in the Times covering the legislation. This includes over 20 articles and an editorial that have appeared in the "paper of record" since the debate heated up in the past two weeks. During this entire period, never once has the Times seen fit to even mention these amendments or describe their consequences for US-European relations or our overall Middle East policy. Instead of suggesting a nefarious cover-up, it may just be that for the editors of the Times these matters, as important as they are, just didn't fit the story line they were developing. Thus, my suggestion that the more appropriate motto for the Times would be "All the news we think fits, we print".
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