The U.S. Senate has begun debate on Trade Promotional Authority legislation. On their agenda is consideration of a number of amendments designed to protect the U.S. against currency manipulation, to require enforcement of existing trade laws, and to oppose imports from countries employing child laborers. While debating these proposed amendments, they should also take a long hard look at language that was already included in the bill, in committee, which can have far-reaching consequences for U.S.-European relations and U.S. Middle East policy.     

On March 2nd the Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously, without debate, to insert a pro-Israel amendment into the TPA legislation. The amendment according to its principal sponsor, Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDC train system losing 0k per day during government shutdown IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries GOP senators would support postponing State of the Union MORE (D-Md.) would "include among the principal negotiating objectives of the United States regarding commercial partnerships...discouraging activity that discourages, penalizes, or otherwise limits commercial relations with Israel." 

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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. While the U.S., since the time of President Reagan, has dumbed down its criticism of Israeli settlements, referring to them as "unhelpful," "illegitimate," or "an obstacle to peace," Europe 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 international 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 economically benefit 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 one of its legislative priorities to suborn the U.S. government, making it a defender of Israel's settlement policies. Enter Ben Cardin and his colleagues.  

At the behest of AIPAC, Cardin introduced his amendment which defines the actions that U.S. 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 U.S. customs 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. If the TPA, as amended, is passed and signed into law by the president, this language 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 U.S. against its European trading partners is the disingenuous way members of Congress have sought to explain their actions.  

Cardin: "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." 

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenators look for possible way to end shutdown GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (R-Ohio): "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". 

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.): "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."  

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenCongress should elevate those trapped in the gap – support ELEVATE Act IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries IRS waiving penalty for some in first filing season under Trump's tax law MORE (D-Ore.): "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, the 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. 

If Congress passes the TPA legislation and it is signed into law with the Cardin amendment intact: the U.S. 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 U.S. policy, the conflation of Israel with the territory it has occupied, expropriated, and settled since 1967. 

To date there has been no Congressional debate on these significant changes in U.S. policy. Nor has the Cardin amendment been subject to press scrutiny. Before moving forward with passage of the TPA, Congress should consider carefully the consequences of keeping the Cardin language in the bill. 

Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute.