Foreign Ministry officials downplayed as “nothing new” an answer the German government gave to a parliamentary question last month supporting EU efforts to specially label goods originating in Israelicontrolled territory beyond the Green Line.

Berlin, the officials said, was merely falling into line with other EU countries which were pushing this issue.

Last month 13 of the EU’s 27 countries – but not Germany – signed a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton supporting her efforts to ensure that the EU and its members “effectively implement existing EU legislation and agreements with Israel regarding products from the settlements.”

That legislation mandates that goods and produce from beyond the Green Line cannot enter the EU duty free, as can products from within the 1967 lines.

Since 2005, Israeli exporters to EU countries have had to list zip codes and place names from where goods were manufactured on the import papers given to tax authorities in the EU countries.

Over the last year, however, as EU frustration at Israel settlement construction policies grew, there were increasing calls for the products themselves to be somehow labeled as made in the settlements, and not in Israel, and that it was no longer sufficient for this to be marked only on the import invoices.

In the April letter to Ashton, the foreign ministers said this type of labeling was “an important step to ensure correct and coherent application of EU consumer protection and labeling legislation, which is in fulfillment of our previous commitments and is fully consistent with long-standing EU policy in relation to Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Efforts to implement the policy, however, have hit various legal obstacles throughout Europe.

Israel maintains that the move unfairly discriminates and singles out Israel, because while this was not the only area in the world where there is a territorial dispute, it was the only area in the world regarding which the EU was discussing specially labeling goods.

For example, goods originating from northern Cyprus, Gibraltar, the Falklands, Western Sahara, Tibet, Kashmir, the Russian- held regions of Georgia, Armenianheld regions of Azerbaijan, and Kosovo were not specially labeled.

European officials say that specially labeling the products does not constitute a boycott, but is only a “service” to the consumer.

Israel’s position, however, is that such a move could mushroom into a fullblown boycott of all Israeli products.

The German government’s response to the parliamentary question, dated May 13 and signed by Emily Haber, a state secretary in the German Foreign Ministry, stated that “in our view, it is permissible to label products with the ‘Made in Israel’ sticker only if those products are manufactured within the 1967 borders.”

When asked for clarification about the Haber letter, a German Foreign Ministry official told The Jerusalem Post: “Products from Israeli settlements have for a long time been sold in the EU. The EU is working on joint guidelines for a correct labeling of the [product] origin in the framework of EU consumer protection law. We are not conducting a discussion about boycotts.”

While Germany is considered a staunch supporter of Israel inside the EU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has openly expressed her opposition to, and frustration with, Israel’s settlement policies.

Meanwhile, Yigal Delmonti, the spokesman for the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, responded to the German position by alluding to the Nazi edict of forcing Jews to wear a yellow star, saying that “Germany’s policy of labeling is reminiscent of dark days.”

He added that the industrial parks where many of the products were manufactured are examples of coexistence where Jews and Palestinians work together. Palestinians benefit from these jobs, and acting against the companies that employ them ultimately only harms the Palestinians, he said.

Delmonti urged the Foreign Ministry to deal with the issue, because labeling settlement products is an initial step toward boycotting Israeli products.

Peace Now said in response that if settlers were proud of their actions, then they should be proud of a label that draws attention to their work. Such a step, the group said, protects Israeli exports because it allows the consumer to differentiate between products made within the pre- 1967 lines and those that originate from outside of it.

Last month Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, whose country will take over the rotating presidency of the EU in July, told the Post that if products grown or manufactured in settlements were not properly labeled as such, it could spark moves in some European countries to boycott all Israeli goods.

“You should take it [the settlement labeling issue] seriously,” he advised. “I know the mood in some countries is that if you don’t change the market practice, you could lead to a boycott of all [Israeli] goods.

You should take this into account.”

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