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European Union Requires Labeling of Israeli Goods Made in Illegal Settlements

(Photo: Stuart Chalmers)

(Photo: Stuart Chalmers)

The European Union has issued new guidelines requiring the labeling of many products made in unlawful Israeli settlements in the illegally-occupied Palestinian territories.

The move by the European Commission will apply to fresh fruits and vegetables, wine, honey, olive oil, eggs, poultry, organic products and cosmetics produced by Israeli-owned businesses and farms outside the Jewish state’s original borders, the New York Times reports. These goods must be labeled “made in settlements” or its equivalent; for example, “product of West Bank (Israeli settlement).” Goods from Palestinian-owned businesses can say “product of Palestine” or “product of West Bank (Palestinian product).” Israeli products originating from the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights will be subject to the new requirement, which will only affect about 1 percent of Israel’s $3 billion in annual exports to the 28-nation EU, Israel’s largest trading partner.

“From an economic point of view this is a non-issue,” David Simha, president of the Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, a group that promotes economic ties between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, told the Wall Street Journal. “The numbers are so small it will not affect business.”

Although the economic impact of the new guidelines is expected to be minimal, many leading Israeli officials are concerned about possible broader implications. They fear that Israeli banks offering mortgages to Jews buying homes in the occupied territories could find themselves targeted for EU sanctions, retail chain stores with locations in settlements could be banned from Europe and manufacturers using parts made in settlements could become subject to labeling or sanctions.

Following the EU’s Wednesday decision, EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, where he was sternly reprimanded. Haaretz reports the Israeli Foreign Ministry blasted the EU for choosing “for political motives, to take an unusual and discriminatory step” at a time when Israel is facing a renewed wave of violent Palestinian resistance to nearly a half century of occupation. In a statement, the ministry said it was “surprised and even angered by the fact that the EU chooses to implement a double standard against Israel, while ignoring 200 territorial disputes taking place today around the world, including within [the EU] or right on [Israel’s] doorstep.”

The Guardian reports Israel’s ambassador to the EU, David Walzer, warned that there would be “implications” to the labeling decision.

“This for us in Israel feels like we have been singled out for quasi-sanctions using economic tools for punishment,” said Walzer. “Frankly this is extremely disappointing, it’s unacceptable, and it’s not going to be taken lightly in Israel– this will have implications.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Europe’s move by saying the EU should be “ashamed of itself.”

“The labeling of products of the Jewish state by the European Union brings back dark memories,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Europe should be ashamed of itself. It took an immoral decision. Of the hundreds of territorial conflicts around the world, it chose to single out Israel, and Israel alone, while it’s fighting… with its back against the wall against a wave of terror.”

Other leading Israeli officials, including ultranationalist foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman and lawmaker and former ambassador to Washington Michael Oren, also invoked the memory of the Holocaust to compare the most recent EU action with the genocidal treatment of Jews by an earlier generation of Europeans. On Facebook, Oren posted a Nazi-era photo of a Jewish-owned business labeled ‘Jude,’ of ‘Jew,’ with a Star of David. “The goal [of the labeling requirement] is simply to delegitimize Jews,” Oren wrote in the caption to the photo.

But critics have long accused Israeli officials of falsely branding anyone who objects to Israel’s occupation of Palestine or other contentious policies and actions as anti-Semitic or, if the detractor is Jewish, a “self-hating Jew.”

“It’s a trick; we always use it,” the late Shulamit Aloni, a former Israeli education minister, once said. “When from Europe somebody’s criticizing Israel, we bring up the Holocaust.”

Palestinian leaders welcomed the EU move but said it did not go far enough.

Businesses in the settlements “make products with stolen natural resources on the land of the Palestinian people,” Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement. “Those products should not only be labeled, but should be banned.”

“We welcome this decision and consider it a significant move toward a total boycott of Israeli settlements, which are built illegally on occupied Palestinian lands,” Erekat added. “The EU has once again moved from the level of statements to taking concrete policy decisions. We believe that more actions are necessary to hold Israel accountable for the crimes it continues to commit against the land and people of Palestine.”

Mahmoud Nawajaa, a Palestinian leader of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, lamented that the new labeling requirement was “hardly a proportionate response to repeated Israeli war crimes.”

Israel’s occupation and settlements in Palestine are illegal under international law, as the Fourth Geneva Convention expressly states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territory it occupies.” However, many Israelis believe that ‘God’ promised them, as ‘His’ chosen people,’ all of Palestine, which was the site of ancient Jewish kingdoms. But from biblical times until the early 20th century, Jews never numbered more than 10 percent of the population of the territory that would become the modern Jewish state of Israel.

According to the United Nations, Israel has established around 150 official settler colonies, as well as another 100 or so unapproved outposts, since conquering and occupying the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six Day War. In 1972, there were some 10,000 Jews living in settlements. By 2008, there were more than 500,000, with thousands more Jews settling on Palestinian land each year.

Before retiring last year, United Nations human rights official Richard Falk, a Jewish American, repeatedly asserted that Israeli settlement expansion is a “form of ethnic cleansing.” Other prominent international observers, including the Nobel peace laureates Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire, accuse Israel of practicing apartheid policies.

“When Israel [occupies] territory deep within the West Bank, and connects the 200 or so settlements with each other with a road and then prohibits the Palestinians from using that road, or in many cases even crossing that road, this perpetuates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa,” said Carter, the former US president who won the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering a lasting peace between former bitter enemies Israel and Egypt.

Earlier this week, Israeli officials announced approval of an additional 2,200 settler homes in the West Bank. More than 1 million Arabs have fled or been forcibly removed from their homes to make way for Jewish colonists and immigrants to Palestine over the past 67 years.

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