Protest poster: “The people want to free Palestine!”, “The people want to criminalize normalization with Israel!”

While the Tunisian government leaders may be sincere in their avowals of democracy and equality, they themselves recognize that they are caught in an international and internal situation where they may be forced, in order to stay in power, to make serious compromises with their principles … There can be no doubt that the future of Tunisia will depend to a great extent on the kind of relationship that the US will establish with that country and the speed with which it will be done. The democratic orientation of Tunisia will be influenced by this factor. Memorandum: Developments in Tunisia, 5 May 1956, The American Jewish Committee

As much as Tunisia’s initial, post-independence, political transition was influenced by the extent and nature of economic support from the West, the success of the country’s waning post-revolution «democratic transition» is significantly impacted by the same US and EU powers. A misnomer that diminishes the scope and complexity of international alliances and enmities that it encompasses, the Arab-Israeli conflict bears greatly upon Tunisia’s relations with Western democracies, the primary prospective investors and financial backers of political transition in Tunisia for the past half-century.

Point n°5 from the “Memorandum: Developments in Tunisia“, 5 May 1956, The American Jewish Committee

«Psychologically and geographically Tunis is part of the West,» President Habib Bourguiba purportedly told the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in 1956, although Tunis became the official headquarters of the Arab League in 1979 after Israel, Egypt, and the US converged to produce A Framework for Peace in the Middle East. Tunisia is among the few (Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania) Arab League countries that do not enforce the Boycott of Israel which most member countries have adopted intermittently and to varying degrees over the past several decades since 1948.1 If the Tunisian government’s affiliation with the Arab League and relations with Israel and the US are inconsistent and dictated by the whims of international politics, Tunisian citizens’ solidarity with Palestinians has remained unwavering since Al-Nakba in 1948 through the signing of a new Constitution in 2014.

We, the representatives of the Tunisian people, members of the National Constituent Assembly, …

Based on … [support for] just liberation movements at the forefront of which is the Palestinian liberation movement; and standing against all forms of occupation and racism …

…in the name of the people, draft this Constitution with God’s blessings.
From the Preamble of the Constitution of the Tunisian Republic, Unofficial Translation, Jasmine Foundation

An «Open Letter to the political parties and members of the National Constituent Assembly»
published at the end of last month petitions for the Adoption of a law criminalizing the normalization of relations with Israel, in contrast with US policies addressing other countries’ relations with Israel, is the greatest present manifestation of Tunisia’s long-standing divergence with the United States regarding ties with Israel.

“We insist upon the implementation of the boycott defined by the Arab League since the Zionist occupation, as well as the criminalization of this illegitimate terrorist entity. It is in refusing to recognize this enemy and to collaborate and normalize our relations that we will succeed in isolating that which for years has imprisoned and starved our brothers in Palestine and particularly in the Gaza strip, with the shameful complicity of Arab «traitor» regimes. The need to take up this fight again is all the more important now owing to the failure of Tunisian parties and political movements for this cause: the majority have succeeded only in instrumentalizing the Palestinian cause for electoral ends. Their innumerable statements and declarations proclaiming their support for the Palestinian people in their current struggle does not prevent them, at the same time, from honoring the diplomatic invitations of States who openly support Israel with who they sustain legendary complicity.”

Adopt a Law Criminalizing the Normalization of Relations With Israel from Your Contributions, Nawaat

The letter alludes to previous attempts to enact a law that reflects the assertion of solidarity present in the new constitution. Prompted by the Djerba Polemic in April concerning the entry of Israeli nationals into Tunisia, and the associated interrogation of Minister of Tourism Amel Karboul and Minister of National Security Ridha Sfar at the ANC (which the former attended not without a hint of disdain for the affair), «Certain deputies set to creating a law criminalizing normalization with the Zionist entity,» the letter explains.

The United States and the Arab League Boycott of Israel

The Arab League is an umbrella organization comprising 23 Middle Eastern and African countries and entities. 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 League. Martin A. Weiss, CRS Report for Congress – Arab League Boycott of Israel, 19 April 2006

The US’ position on the Arab League Boycott is clear. Within the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security is the Office of Antiboycott Compliance (OAC), described, in the first paragraph readers find on the official website, as follows:

The Bureau is charged with administering and enforcing the Antiboycott Laws under the Export Administration Act. Those laws discourage, and in some circumstances, prohibit U.S. companies from furthering or supporting the boycott of Israel sponsored by the Arab League, and certain other countries, including complying with certain requests for information designed to verify compliance with the boycott. Compliance with such requests may be prohibited by the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and may be reportable to the Bureau.

The OAC website outlines US policies that do not “prohibit” but penalize (civil penalties may be a fine of 10,000USD, criminal penalties up to 50,000USD or five times the amount of exports involved depending on which value is greater, and/or imprisonment for up to five years, and “willful” penalties up to 250,000USD or imprisonment for up to ten years)1 violations of the designated antiboycott provisions.

Antiboycott Laws:

During the mid-1970’s the United States adopted two laws that seek to counteract the participation of U.S. citizens in other nation’s economic boycotts or embargoes. These “antiboycott” laws are the 1977 amendments to the Export Administration Act (EAA) and the Ribicoff Amendment to the 1976 Tax Reform Act (TRA). While these laws share a common purpose, there are distinctions in their administration.

Primary Impact:
The Arab League boycott of Israel is the principal foreign economic boycott that U.S. companies must be concerned with today. The antiboycott laws, however, apply to all boycotts imposed by foreign countries that are unsanctioned by the United States.

What do the Laws Prohibit?
Conduct that may be penalized under the TRA and/or prohibited under the EAR includes:
– Agreements to refuse or actual refusal to do business with or in Israel or with blacklisted companies.

The TRA does not “prohibit” conduct, but denies tax benefits (“penalizes”) for certain types of boycott-related agreements.
Office of Antiboycott Compliance (OAC)

A 2006 CRS Report For Congress written by Analyst in International Trade and Finance Martin A. Weiss is in fact a primary (word-for-word) source for Wikipedia’s entry on «Arab League boycott of Israel.» The document includes a basic history of the Arab League, implementation of the Boycott, and US activities to diminish the efforts of Arab League member countries to enforce policies that are ultimately harmful to US economy and foreign investments.

From the CRS Report For Congress, “Arab League boycott of Israel“.

Not two weeks after the Open Letter inciting Parliament to initiate legislation in the vein of the original Arab League Boycott of Israel, Marzouki visited Washington with an appeal to the US to «bet on Tunisia» and accelerate its provision of military equipment and training for Tunisia’s struggle against terrorism. As citizens demand of their presumed representatives the adoption of policies that address the Israel-Palestine conflict, the President implores a Western ally, deemed complicit in the same conflict, for economic support that will ensure successful political transition. If both requests are urgent and merit a prompt official response, only the latter has acquired a vast and captive audience. In Tunisia’s critical time of need (as the President so effectively conveyed it to his friends in Washington), the country’s dynamic Start-Up Democracy team of technocrats, clamourous ANC members, and electorally-pitted political parties are not the most likely of State representatives and officals to codify what the US has so systematically condemned.

“We insist upon the adoption of a law criminalizing all forms of normalization with the Zionist entity (while excluding the Palestinians of 1948 and adopting a lenient attititude regarding the participation of Tunisian researchers at international conferences, in compliance with the criteria adopted by the Palestinian campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel). We demand the full and strict application of the boycott’s provisions as they were implemented by the Arab League until the beginning of the 1970s, as well as the implementation of all forms of real and concrete support for our brothers in Palestine, beginning with their exemption from the visa entry requirement in Tunisia.”

Adopt a Law Criminalizing the Normalization of Relations With Israel from Your Contributions, Nawaat

1 Martin A. Weiss, CRS Report for Congress: Arab League Boycott of Israel, 19 April 2006. As noted later in the article, this resource is also the primary source of information for the Wikipedia entry on “Arab League Boycott of Israel.”