The European Union have announced plans to introduce rules that will force the labelling of goods that are produced in Israel to European consumers, despite the heavy criticism from Israel.
The new labelling guidelines mean that any produce made by Jewish-owned businesses and farms in the land Israel captured during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, will be made abundantly clear to consumers, who may wish to boycott the purchase of such products.
European officials played down the move, saying the guidelines merely clarified existing rules on goods sold in Europe. But Israeli politicians across the spectrum condemned it as an anti-Semitic echo of Holocaust-era practices of branding European Jews and their storefronts with yellow stars.
The European Union is Israel’s top trading partner, though products from the occupied West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem are believed to comprise less than 1 percent of the €30 billion, or $32 billion, in annual trade between Israel and the bloc’s 28 countries. And though the labeling is mandatory only for certain foodstuffs and cosmetics made or grown in areas under Israeli control, broader application of similar rules could affect many Israeli companies, which generally operate on both sides of the 1967 lines.
For example, Israeli banks that provide mortgages to homeowners in the West Bank could become vulnerable to new measures that might include sanctions, along with retail stores with outlets in settlements, or manufacturers that use parts made in factories there.
“The Israeli pushback is about trying to intimidate Europeans from not going further down this path,” said Daniel Levy, Middle East director at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The Israelis want this process to move as slowly as possible, because at a minimum it’s a headache, and at a maximum, ultimately, it could be devastating.”
The European Union’s decision to proceed on guidelines years in the making, despite fierce lobbying by Israel and intervention by a group of United States senators, came after several of its member states, and its own Parliament, formally or symbolically recognized an independent Palestinian state. Those resolutions reflect mounting frustration in Europe over the stalemated peace process and the growing political pressure on leaders in countries with large Muslim populations sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
A spokesman for the European Commission, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said Wednesday’s move “in no way changes” the bloc’s stance on the peace process or Israel’s special treatment in European markets, where “Made in Israel” items carry little or no tariffs. But “products coming from the settlements cannot benefit from those preferences,” the spokesman said.
Israel summoned the European Union ambassador, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, to the foreign ministry and informed him that Israel was suspending diplomatic talks scheduled for various forums in the coming weeks.. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a host of other Israeli leaders denounced the move as hypocritical because no similar labels were proposed for products from occupied territories elsewhere in the world, and they said it was particularly painful after weeks of Palestinian attacks against Israeli Jews.
“The E.U. should be ashamed,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement. “The E.U. has decided to label Israel, and we are not prepared to accept the fact that Europe is labeling the side that is being attacked by terrorism.”
The labeling rules apply to fresh fruit and vegetables, wine, honey, olive oil, eggs, poultry, organic products and cosmetics coming from Israeli-owned businesses and farms outside the state’s original borders.
Rather than “product of Israel,” these goods must be labeled with the term “settlement,” as in “product of West Bank (Israeli settlement).” Goods from Palestinian-owned businesses can say “product of Palestine” or “product of West Bank (Palestinian product).”