Israel fumes as EU approves guidelines on settlement goods labeling

Published November 11th, 2015 - 01:30 GMT

The European Union approved guidelines Wednesday for its member states to label products made in West Bank settlements, a move that has already been criticized by Israel as “disguised anti-Semitism.”

At a meeting in Brussels, the European Commissioner “adopted this morning the interpretative notice on indication of origin of goods from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967,” the EU’s executive said.

Wednesday’s move by the European Council, which will also apply to the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, underscores the EU’s unhappiness over Israel’s continued expansion of settlements on territory that Palestinians are seeking for a future state.

The EU’s instructions for the labels says that the labels should say “Made in the West Bank” or “Made in the Golan,” in either case continuing with the words “(Israeli settlement),” according to Channel 10 news.

While European diplomats have downplayed the move, which has been in the works for over a year, the Israeli government sees it as akin to a boycott on the state.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded to the move by summoning EU Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson for a dressing down, Channel 10 reported.

The Foreign Ministry warned the move could affect ties and accused Brussels in a statement of applying a double standard to Israel “while ignoring 200 other territorial disputes around the world.”

Israel condemns the decision of the European Union to label Israeli goods originating over the ’67 lines. We regret that the EU chose for political reasons to take an unusual and discriminatory step drawn from the realm of boycotts, just as Israel is facing a wave of terror directed at all citizens,” the statement read. “The claim that this is a technical step is a cynical, baseless claim.”

The ministry added that labeling goods would not lead to peace with the Palestinians but instead bolster Palestinian refusal to negotiate.

“Labeling will strengthen radicals trying to advance boycotts on Israel and deny its right to exist, a stance that the EU claims to oppose,” the statement read.

The EU Commission said the guidelines are merely a technical measure it was forced to impose after three member states — Britain, Belgium and Denmark — already had imposed special labeling on their own, since the EU needed streamlined guidelines throughout the 28 nations.

The measures will primarily cover fruit and vegetables from the area. The labeling should affect less than 1 percent of all trade between the EU and Israel, which stands at some 30 billion euros. EU officials said that in Britain, where it is already in place, it has had no negative economic effect.

On some products, like fruit and vegetables, the labeling referring to settlements will be mandatory, while on others it will be voluntary.

The decision covers not only West Bank settlements, but also the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, which were effectively annexed by Israel in the early 1980s, though the international community never recognized the move.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said the move unfairly singles out Israel, describing the decision as “anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.”

“European hypocrisy and hatred of Israel has crossed every line,” she said following the announcement.

Shaked told Israel Radio the government plans to fight the decision.

“We will study decision once the full details are released and decide on the appropriate response,” she said. “We will consider legal steps if necessary.”

Exports from Jewish settlements — which consist mostly of agricultural products since there are no major technological companies — are minuscule compared to those from Israel proper.

According to the most recent available statistics from the Israel Manufacturers Association, from 2012, exports from the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights amount to $100 million a year. That is about 0.7 percent of the approximately $14 billion the EU annually imports from within the Green Line. In 2014, it was exactly €13,070,556,887; or about NIS 57 billion.

There are 14 industrial zones with 800 factories and agricultural facilities in the West Bank, according to Yigal Dilmoni, a spokesman for the Yesha Council of Jewish settlements.

If these companies were to lose money due to labeling or a boycott, the 15,000 Palestinian workers they employ, who earn more than twice as much working for Jews as they would in the Palestinian Authority, would also be among those hurt, Dilmoni said. In that sense, he argued, labeling will not contribute to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but rather destroy one area in which peaceful coexistence currently exists.

“I don’t know how the world would react to the labeling,” Dilmoni said recently. “Yes, it could cause us some losses, but we will overcome it.”

Senior Israeli politicians, including from opposition parties, have branded the initiative anti-Semitic, comparing it to yellow stars Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.

“It is intolerable that Israel is the only country that has been singled out by the EU for such a policy, despite the fact that there are over 200 disputed territories worldwide,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry stated on its website Tuesday.

On Tuesday evening, Netanyahu met with a bipartisan group of US senators in Washington and urged them to assist Israel in fending off the EU’s decision to label West Bank goods. The 36 senators from both sides of the aisle on Monday sent a letter to the EU’s foreign policy czar Federica Mogherini protesting what they called a “de facto boycott” of Israel. “We believe strongly that these efforts are unwarranted, dangerous, and damaging to the prospects of a negotiated solution to [the Israeli-Palestinian] conflict,” the senators wrote.

European officials flatly reject any accusations of anti-Semitism. “This is an emotional argument without any relevance to the issue. It is not based on political grounds. It’s based on the logic that any product labeled made in Israel needs to be truly come from Israel and not from areas what are not internationally regarded as Israel,” a senior official said Tuesday. “This is the European Union saying what is has always said: The occupied territories are not part of the State of Israel.”

In April, the foreign ministers of 16 of the European Union’s 28 member states sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini asking her to promote the labeling of products from the settlements in store chains throughout Europe. Germany wasn’t among the signatories.

Then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman strongly condemned the bid, suggesting that European nations might as well label them “with a yellow star” such as the one used by Nazi Germany to identify Jews before and during the Holocaust.

AFP contributed to this report.

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