Sens. Booker, Portman cosponsor legislation addressing Arab anti-normalization policies

In a bipartisan effort to ease decades of tensions between Israel and Arab states, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced legislation on Thursday that would require the State Department to provide an accounting of countries that punish individuals for engaging with Israel.

The bill, “Strengthening Reporting of Actions Taken Against the Normalization of Relations with Israel Act of 2020” would require the State Department to include a status report on anti-normalization laws in countries covered by the department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in its annual Report on Human Rights Practices. The requirement would run from 2021 to 2026.

(Read the full text of the bill, S.4482 – “Strengthening Reporting of Actions Taken Against the Normalization of Relations with Israel Act of 2020”.)

The legislation includes a provision stating that the Arab League “has maintained an official boycott of Israeli companies and Israeli-made goods since the founding of Israel in 1948.”

A number of Arab countries have laws punishing citizens for interacting with Israeli citizens and businesses. The Arab League first issued a formal boycott of Jewish businesses in 1945, three years prior to the formation of Israel. Afterwards, the League modified the ban to include secondary businesses affiliated or trading with Israel.

In a statement to Jewish Insider, Portman said, “I am proud to join Senator Booker on this bipartisan legislation which supports our ally Israel and the longstanding US policy that encourages Arab League states to normalize their relations with Israel.”

“Anti-normalization laws in the region continue to be a barrier toward communities, people, NGOs and business coming together. In my visits to the region, I’ve seen the deep and abiding friendships that exist, and they are essential to building a long term peace,” Portman continued. “This bill will discourage those Arab League states that continue to enforce anti-normalization laws and support efforts like those proposed by the Arab Council that encourage and defend community engagement amongst Arabs and Israelis.”

“Since my time in the Senate, I have consistently supported Arab-Israeli engagement,” Booker said in a statement. “The need for people-to-people engagement between these communities is not only a critical tool for diplomacy but also important for peace and economic prosperity in the region. Our bill will strengthen America’s commitment to pursuing peace by supporting and encouraging dialogue between Arab and Israeli citizens.”

The bill cites a number of organizations and groups working in support of normalizing relations. 

The Arab Council for Regional Integration, one group praised in the bill, applauded Sens. Booker and Portman for sponsoring the legislation. “We are gratified that at a time of turmoil around the world, two prominent U.S. Senators have decided to stand with advocates of people-to-people engagement between Arabs and Israelis,” Arab Council co-founder Mostafa El-Dessouki told JI. “Civil society has always been the ‘missing piece’ in efforts to forge a just and lasting peace in our region. This bill will empower the many bridge-builders among us to move forward toward a ‘peace between peoples.’”

On Sunday, the leadership for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization released a statement praising Portman and Booker. “This bipartisan measure takes action against [anti-normalization] policies and promotes the process of further regional normalization with Israel, which is critical to achieving a genuine and lasting peace between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors.”

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