Arab Boycott

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Various measures of economic warfare against Israel by the League of Arab States.

In an attempt to assist the Palestinians in their struggle against Zionism, the newly formed League of Arab States (Arab League) passed Resolution 16 on 2 December 1945, calling on its member states to prohibit the purchase of products made by the Jewish sector of Palestine. After the Arab defeat in the first ArabIsrael War (1948), the Arab League expanded the boycott to include three levels. The primary boycott barred Arab states, companies, and individuals from buying from or selling to Israel any goods or services, and prohibited other commercial or financial relationships with Israel. In 1950, a secondary boycott extended the prohibitions to dealings with companies anywhere in the world who themselves engaged in important economic relations with Israel. A subsequent tertiary boycott was aimed more broadly at individuals and organizations seen as supportive of Israel. An example of the secondary boycott concerned the giant Coca-Cola Company. Because of the company's activities in Israel, many Arab countries boycotted it and gave their business to the rival Pepsi Cola Company instead. An example of the tertiary boycott can be seen in the policies of Jordan, which boycotted entertainers it considered pro-Israel, including Danny Kaye and Frank Sinatra, and banned their films and recordings from entering the country.

In 1951, the Arab League set up the Central Office for the Boycott of Israel in Damascus, Syria, operating under the league's secretary-general. It administered boycott activities and maintained a roster of blacklisted companies with which member states were not to trade. By the 1970s, the league had enacted over forty articles clarifying how the boycott was to work. By 1976, 6,300 firms from ninety-six countries had been blacklisted. However, rulings from the office were only advisory. Several Arab states, including Tunisia, Sudan, and Algeria, chose not to follow the secondary and tertiary boycotts or followed them only selectively. International reaction to the boycott ranged from repeated expressions of outrage and judicial counteractions by the United States and some European countries, to Japanese and Korean reluctance to engage in economic dealings with Israel for fear of offending Arab countries.

The boycott failed to throttle Israel's economic development, even though Israel's economy was weak in the years following the first ArabIsraeli War. Among other things, Israel benefited financially early on from its confiscation of the land left behind by the Palestinian refugees, which enabled it to settle new immigrants inexpensively. Israel also began demanding that the compensation it had pledged to pay the refugees for their property be reduced to account for the boycott's damage to its economy. Additionally, Israel benefited in the 1950s and 1960s from massive infusions of goods from West Germany in the form of reparations for Nazi crimes, as well as from funds donated by Jewish individuals and organizations around the world. In 1992, the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce estimated that the boycott had reduced Israeli exports by 10 percent and investments by 15 percent for a cumulative loss of $45 billion. Yet by that point, Israel had defeated the Arabs in four major wars and had clearly thrived despite the boycott.

The boycott was dealt several further major blows when Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties with Israel (1979 and 1994, respectively), and ended their participation in the boycott. The Palestine Liberation Organization also gave up the boycott as a result of the IsraeliPalestinian peace process, and in February 1995 joined Egypt and Jordan in pledging to support an end to boycott activities. Other Arab states, including Oman and Qatar, began establishing trade ties with Israel after the October 1991 Madrid Conference and the subsequent IsraeliPalestinian peace process. Countries outside the Arab League, including Japan, have also begun dropping their adherence to the boycott. Despite this, the Arab League has not formally rescinded the boycott, and the Central Office for the Boycott of Israel still exists. Although this office it did not hold its biannual conference for a number of years after 1993, it did convene its seventy-first conference in Damascus in October 2003, which even a delegation from American-occupied Iraq attended.

see also arabisrael war (1948); league of arab states; madrid conference (1991); refugees: palestinian; west german reparations agreement.


Feiler, Gil. From Boycott to Economic Cooperation: The Political Economy of the Arab Boycott of Israel. London: Frank Cass, 1998.

Sarna, A.J. Boycott and Blacklist: A History of Arab Economic Warfare against Israel. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1986.

Sharif, Amer A. A Statistical Study on the Arab Boycott of Israel. Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1970.

George E. Gruen

Updated by Michael R. Fischbach

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Arab Boycott

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