In his column of June 11, Michael Freund claims the German government is joining
other European Union members in their efforts to “apply special labels of origin
to products manufactured by Jewish-owned factories in Judea and Samaria” –
something that to Freund equals declaring “don’t buy from
According to him, “Germany has been thrown back to its darkest
There is an important difference between fabrication and fact. How
and why should a German government under Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership
suddenly adopt revisionist policies with regard to Israel? How and why should
the country that has become Israel’s most important ally in Europe deviate from
its chosen path and betray the Jewish state? Is the Germany which Freund singles
out in his column the same Germany that has shown and proven through the
post-war years that it treats Israel and Jewish communities around the globe
with utmost respect and sympathy? We better take a look at the facts instead of
being led astray by rumor, prejudice and uninformed opinion.
EU-Israel Association Agreement provides for products from Israel to be imported
into EU countries at a preferential tariff rate. In 2012 alone, German imports
from Israel amounted to 1.65 billion euros – a positive development and
hopefully one that will experience further growth.
treatment under the Association Agreement does not cover products from beyond
the lines of June 4, 1967. They can enter the EU – and will be able to do so in
the future. But customs duties need to be paid. Israel and the EU agreed on this
in a Technical Agreement in 2005.
All EU foreign ministers have
repeatedly reiterated that they will not recognize changes to the pre- 1967
borders, unless agreed by the conflicting parties. They have equally made clear
that EU law needs to be fully implemented. No change there.
So what is
this really about? EU consumer protection law sets very detailed requirements
for retail labelling. They exist to provide a level playing field for trade
across Europe and to inform consumers on the origin of products, among other
things. Anybody vaguely familiar with this legal maze knows how extensive these
regulations are. Thus, for some agricultural products – fresh fruit, wine, olive
oil to name but a few – the country of origin must be stated, in accordance with
the specific rules applying to that product.
When such labelling is
mandatory, the geographical origin must be correctly included in the
When it is voluntary, traders are free to decide whether they want
to display the origin on the label, unless omission of that information would
mislead the consumer.
So the labelling requirements are there already.
They have nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The question is,
however, whether products are labelled correctly.
amounts to misleading the consumer, which is prohibited under EU
These specific EU laws raise difficult questions with respect to all
territories considered occupied, be it the West Bank or Nagorno-
From the EU’s point of view, “Made in Israel” is not the
correct label for a product that originates in the West Bank. And it needs to be
emphasized: No Israeli government has ever claimed that these areas are part of
the State of Israel.
So what is currently being studied by the European
Commission, as the guardian of the treaties, is the question of what exactly the
existing requirements of labelling are for different kinds of products; and what
correct labelling could look like for products that originate from outside the
internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel. Nothing more, nothing
As any Israeli products are already labelled “Made in Israel”
(whenever origin labelling is required) and as Palestinian products face the
same requirements for origin labelling as Israeli products, all talk about a
special label for Jews is nonsense. There is no question of creating new EU
legislation on labelling. Neither are we in the business of calling for
Germany decidedly rejects any such attempt. What this is about
is making sure that the labels in use are legally correct.
In contrast to
other EU member states, Germany has not introduced national guidelines on
labelling. One member state, for example, recommends to traders and retailers to
use the label “Produce of the West Bank” and then to add in brackets, if they so
wish, “Israeli settlement produce” or “Palestinian produce.”
We will see
what the competent European bodies will propose.
Until then, I recommend
some honesty in the debate.
And just to remind you. Germany is and
remains one of Israel’s closest partners. All those who deal with our intimate
relationship in this country know how advanced and meaningful our cooperation
has become in all fields – from security to the economy. Germany would never
support policies which are directed against the fundamental interest of the
State of Israel.The writer is the German ambassador to Israel.
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