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Foreign sanctions: Are they coming for you?

American-Israeli attorney Mark Zell is preparing to take the U.S. government to court for sanctioning four Judea and Samaria residents.

U.S. President Joe Biden addresses a group of Jewish Community leaders about his support for Israel following the recent Hamas terrorist attacks and his work to combat antisemitism on Oct. 11, 2023, in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House. Credit: Adam Schultz/White House.
U.S. President Joe Biden addresses a group of Jewish Community leaders about his support for Israel following the recent Hamas terrorist attacks and his work to combat antisemitism on Oct. 11, 2023, in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House. Credit: Adam Schultz/White House.

As word spread about four residents of Judea and Samaria being sanctioned for “settler violence”—some scoffed while others wondered what exactly the four did to deserve the infamy.

“I wonder what took them so long,” said professor Yossi Spiegel of Tel Aviv University’s School of Management, president of the Israeli Economic Association. “The international community considers the settlements illegal, but until now consequences were just a threat.  Now they mean business.”

However, some are taking action.

Marc Zell, an American-Israeli attorney who practices international law, has organized a team of legal experts in the United States and in Israel to file a formal lawsuit against the U.S. government, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State. The suit will challenge the constitutionality and legality of the Executive Order (EO), which was issued under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the National Emergencies Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.

According to Zell, the overall basis for sanctions is questionable. Based on his understanding of the facts regarding one of the four cases, he says there were no grounds for the sanctions.

Furthermore, he said, the order itself is very broad.

“The order gives the U.S. government the right to impose sanctions on foreign persons who engage in certain actions that conflict with U.S. foreign policy regarding Judea and Samaria,” Zell explained. “What possible threat is a Jewish farmer? How could he possibly threaten national security interests?”

Furthermore, he said, it is not clear whether the EO applies to dual U.S. nationals. “It reads ‘any foreign person,’ but leaves that undefined,” he noted.

According to Zell, the suit is currently being drafted, and is expected to be filed within a couple of weeks. He is currently speaking to any potential plaintiffs.

As of the Trump administration’s 2019 decision to that effect, the United States does not consider settlements illegal, but there are rumors that the Biden administration may be considering reversing that decision.  Were that to happen, over 60,000 Americans living throughout Judea and Samaria could be sanctioned under this EO.

Nobody should be surprised at this, argued professor Spiegel.

“You should realize that the settlements are in violation of international law and they are not in the sovereign territory of Israel,” he said. “We somehow pretend that it’s all normal, but it’s not. Other countries seem to be fed up with this situation and will probably take more actions to sanction the settlements. No one knows exactly what or when, but life outside the Green Line [the 1949 armistice line] will become increasingly less pleasant,” he added.

For the four Israelis sanctioned, life has already become much less pleasant—their Israeli bank accounts have been frozen.

According to Zell, however, the banks’ actions were “completely illegal.”

Philip Braude, a wealth management specialist at boutique firm Braude Wealth, is from South Africa and says he knows all about sanctions—and has been fearing them.

“Americans are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s limited to those living in the territories.”

President Biden’s Executive Order addresses not just acts of violence, but any person considered responsible or complicit in actions “including directing, enacting, implementing, enforcing, or failing to enforce policies—that threaten the peace, security, or stability of the West Bank.” It also addresses anyone deemed to have “materially assisted, sponsored, provided financial, material or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of any person blocked pursuant to this order.”

This means the order can potentially affect U.S. charitable contributions that support any people or groups in Judea and Samaria that are sanctioned.

“Nobody knows who will win the next [U.S.] election,” said Spiegel.  “If the Democratic party wins, sanctions will increase.”

It would be a good idea for Israelis to begin planning for such an eventuality.

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