Israel Condemns EU “Settlement” Labeling

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adresses the Jewish Federations of North America conference in Washington DC, USA, on November 10, 2015. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO *** Local Caption *** ראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו נואם ב-GA וושינגטון, ארה"ב
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu adsresses the Jewish Federations of North America conference in Washington, DC, on November 10 (Haim Zach/GPO)

Israel greeted the long-threatened European Union labeling guidelines on products from over the Green Line with withering denunciations on Wednesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, while still in Washington, said “the European Union should be ashamed of itself. We do not accept the fact that Europe is labeling the side being attacked by terrorist acts.”

He called it “hypocritical and a double standard,” saying that it was not taking such steps in hundreds of territorial conflicts elsewhere in the world.

Going a step beyond rhetoric, Israel summoned the EU ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, and notified him of the immediate diplomatic consequences.

“During the meeting, Foreign Ministry representatives informed the ambassador that because of the recent EU decision, Israel is suspending its diplomatic dialogue with the EU in various forums in which it has meetings scheduled in the coming weeks,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Drawn up over three years, the guidelines require Israeli producers to explicitly designate farm goods and other products from the abovementioned areas if they are sold in the European Union.

Such goods must carry the word “settlement” on the tag when sold in European shops. If an Israeli farmer refuses, retailers can attach the label themselves.

EU officials sought to play down the contentiousness of the guidelines, portraying them as a technical adjustment rather than a highly political maneuver to put pressure on Israel on the Palestinian issue.

The EU maintains that lands won by Israel in the 1967 war — Yehudah and Shomron, eastern Yerushalayim and the Golan Heights — are not part of the internationally recognized borders of Israel. As such, goods from there cannot be labelled “Made in Israel” and should be labelled as coming from settlements.

“It’s an indication of origin, not a warning label,” the EU ambassador to Israel told Reuters.

A five-page document spelling out the guidelines were published online, stressing that they involve no changes to existing laws but are merely clarifications.

Some were even saying that the guidelines will be good for Israeli business.

“Our statistics show that in countries where [labeling] is applied, in the UK, for example, overall trade volume of Israel with that country has gone up, not down, since separate labeling for products made in occupied territories began,” a senior EU official said.

“We believe that people who, for political reasons, don’t want to buy products from settlements will have more clarity on products made in Israel, therefore the trade will not go down. Israel believes it will serve a boycott, well it’s other way around — it’s the opposite of boycotting.”

But the Israeli foreign ministry was not accepting these explanations, arguing that the move singled Israel out and was potentially harmful to long-standing peace efforts.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said: “This is a clearly political measure aimed at forcing a political solution on us without negotiations with the Palestinians.

“We told the Europeans, ‘Do you want to discuss the future of the territories and the status of the Jewish communities? Fine. The right way of doing this, however, is through direct negotiations’.”

Nahshon advised the Europeans to “direct their efforts at persuading the Palestinians to return to negotiations in order to achieve peace, instead of hiding behind bureaucracy and documents.”

Israel’s Economy Ministry estimates the cost of the EU “clarification” will be about $50 million a year, affecting fresh produce such as grapes and dates, wine, poultry, honey, olive oil and cosmetics made from Dead Sea minerals.

That is around a fifth of the $200-$300 million worth of goods produced in the region each year, but only a tiny portion of the $30 billion of goods and services traded between Israel and the European Union each year.

Still, the financial and economic damage may be even less than projected. As Nahshon pointed out, “it’s a question of implementation, because these guidelines have to be implemented in each individual country.

“We believe and hope that in friendly countries like Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and others, implementation will not be so strict, because they realize that it opens the door to a boycott and discrimination against Israel.”

In a related development, the Knesset approved in a preliminary vote on Wednesday legislation that would bar anyone who promotes the boycott of Israel or part of Israel from entering the country, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The bill, authored by MK Yinon Magal (Jewish Home), was carried easily by a vote of 55 to 31.

“Whoever calls for a boycott, will not come here and will stay out,” Magal said, adding that the bill “makes it clear to those who hate us that it’s over.”

However, debate over the bill is not over, and the final form will likely be more moderate. Interior Minister Silvan Shalom said the bill  “undoubtedly goes very far and must be discussed measuredly and allow exceptions and limits. The government supports it as long as it is legislated in coordination with the government.”

MK Dov Hanin (Arab Joint List), however, said “it is hard to explain how stupid this bill is.” Hanin argued that the coalition is trying to turn the country into a fortress, keeping all of Europe out, and would actually encourage boycotts of Israel.

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