The Obama administration said Thursday it doesn’t consider a new European Union rule outlawing “Made in Israel” tags on goods from over the 1967 lines as a boycott, only a technical guideline for consumers.
The U.S. clarified its position a day after the decision by the EU, which was met with opprobrium by Israeli officials, as well as a temporary cutoff of diplomatic relations with the EU.
“We do not believe that labeling the origin of products is equivalent to a boycott,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “And as you know, we do not consider settlements to be part of Israel. We do not view labeling the origin of products as being from the settlements as a boycott of Israel.”
The U.S. position echoed statements issued by EU diplomats who insisted on Wednesday that it was merely a technical matter, not an attempt to pressure Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians.
Before the EU acted, the U.S. position was more ambiguous. Toner and other officials stressed only that Washington opposed any boycotting of Israel, while saying the EU’s response “shouldn’t come as a surprise” given Israel’s continued construction in Yehudah and Shomron.
U.S. support for the EU was stronger Thursday.
“We understand the objective is to provide EU consumers correct information on the origin of products, as required by EU law,” Toner said. “The EU has made clear that these measures are not a boycott, and the EU has also made very clear that they oppose boycotts against Israel. EU guidelines for products that are sold in EU countries are for the EU to determine.”
Also on Thursday, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin canceled a planned visit to the European Union headquarters in Brussels, scheduled for December 2.
Although the timing of the announcement suggested a connection with the EU guidelines, the President’s Residence would not comment on the reason behind the decision.
On the same day, MK Hilik Bar (Zionist Camp) addressed his rebuke in the European Parliament itself. Bar, who was invited to discuss his Mideast peace plan, instead chose to talk about the labeling.
“When you label products, you are labeling yourselves as less relevant to solving the conflict, as an unfair broker. Don’t be pro-Palestinian and don’t be pro-Israel. Be pro-solution,” Bar told the diplomats.
“You are losing the Israeli public that thinks that you don’t understand the reality in which they live,” he explained. “Most of the Israeli public is like me and you, and favors two states. Steps like [labeling] distances them instead of bringing them close.”
In a reference to the Gilboa Local Council and the Jenin region in the Palestinian Authority, which cooperate on health, tourism and industrial projects, the MK advised the EU to try a different kind of labeling.
“You want to label products? Label this industrial park and encourage Europeans to buy more products from there, products that are the fruits of cooperation. It’s true, the economic cooperation between Jenin and the Gilboa did not solve the conflict or bring an agreement about borders, but it is a step in the right direction,” he said.