The European Union feels that its new labeling policy on Israeli products has been the subject of a shocking overreaction, and struck back on Thursday.
EU ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen took particular offense to comparisons made to Nazi boycotts of Jewish businesses. Even when disagreeing, one should not “confuse fact with fiction,” he said at a Jerusalem Post diplomatic conference in Yerushalayim.
“I’ve been shocked to hear claims of anti-Semitism and historical comparisons or analogies to the persecution of Jews in Germany in the 30s and 40s,” he said. “In my mind this is a distortion of history and belittlement of the crimes of the Nazis, and the memory of their victims.”
“Talk of a European boycott just does not stand up to a reality check,” he said. “Let me say loud and clear: Europe is not boycotting Israel, and Europe is not boycotting settlements.”
The EU ambassador cited the thriving trade between Europe and Israel to support his position, pointing out that it surpasses that of any other non-member state. Trade has grown over the last 10 years from 20 to 30 billion euros a year.
“How can a partner and friend invest hundreds of millions in a country and still be accused of boycotting it?” he asked. “We have everything to lose from looking only at the empty half of the glass; we have everything to gain from focusing on what we can accomplish together.”
Nevertheless, Israeli officials remain unconvinced of Europe’s good will, to say the least, and the reaction, if anything, has intensified, despite EU protestations
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu again lashed out at the decision, calling it “heinous,” which, as The Times of Israel noted, is “a term usually reserved in diplomatic speech for violent crimes or terror attacks.”
“This is absolutely absurd,” Netanyahu said. “It’s morally abhorrent because on the soil of Europe, within living memory, Jewish products were labeled. Jewish stores were labeled. And I’d expect, with all the frustration, for Europe not to adapt this heinous act which has such horrible historic overtones,” he said.
The Foreign Ministry is planning diplomatic sanctions, according to Israeli media reports on Wednesday.
Measures directed at 16 countries that actively backed the EU move will reportedly include formal rebukes to ambassadors, a downgrading of contacts to low-level officials, possible denial of entry into Gaza and Yehudah and Shomron to some diplomats, and stricter scrutiny over EU support of projects in those regions.
The countries in question are Britain, France, Denmark, Spain, Ireland, Croatia, Malta, Holland, Sweden, Portugal, Slovenia, Italy, Luxembourg, Austria, Belgium and Finland.
However, such sanctions, assuming they come, will be on a country by country basis. For example, Italy and Holland, which are considered friendlier to Israel than Ireland or Sweden, will likely receive milder treatment.
The Foreign Ministry has declined to comment on the report.