The Foreign Ministry fears that a European Court of Justice landmark ruling on November 12 could force all 28 EU member states to place consumer labels on settler products clarifying that they were not made in Israel.
Such a ruling could transform into a mandate, an EU advisory to its member states to highlight for consumers the origin of Israeli products produced over the pre-1967 lines. The mandate would be applicable to Israeli products from the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Israel holds that product labeling assists the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement by providing a tool that can be used in its de-facto push to boycott Israel.
It is, therefore, preparing for a court decision which will be either “bad or worse,” and which could provide BDS activists with an even more powerful weapon that they could use against Israel throughout Europe.
For instance, if someone finds a bottle of Psagot wine in Slovakia that was not labeled as made in a settlement, they could take the case to a court there, which would then have to rule according to the ECJ ruling.
The Foreign Ministry believes the battle against the ruling must be waged in the diplomatic arena through a campaign to sway EU member states to adopt an interpretation of the ruling that mitigates its impact and would prevent the singling out of settler products.
It is preparing to send its representatives to various relevant ministries throughout the EU – like the ministries of agriculture and economy – to push them to adopt a loose interpretation and implementation of the ECJ decision.
A public diplomacy campaign would also be waged throughout Europe warning against a strict implementation of the ruling, by explaining that it could quickly slide into a boycott of Israeli products.
The issue of product labeling first came to a head in 2011, when the EU issued a directive requiring the labeling of goods from beyond the 1967 lines – the West Bank, the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem – in order to give consumers accurate information regarding the origins of their products.
The EU followed up in 2015 by issuing – over loud Israeli protests – non-binding guidelines regarding the placement of these labels to inform European consumers that they are not “made in Israel.”
The move infuriated Jerusalem, which said it would pave the way to a boycott of Israeli products. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended diplomatic contacts with the EU for a short period of time for a “reassessment” of the EU’s role in the Mideast diplomatic process.
The guidelines were largely ignored by most countries.
France, however, was an exception, and in 2016 the French Ministry of Economy issued its own guidelines requiring labeling on settlement products.
This decision led the Psagot Winery and the Organization Juive Européenne (European Jewish Organization) to file an appeal against the guidelines with France’s highest administrative court.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry was opposed to the legal move at the time, concerned that it would force the European courts to get involved. That could have made what was essentially only a loose guideline into something that is legally binding on member states, and lead to greater enforcement.
Last November, the French court ruled in favor of the Psagot Winery, suspending the labeling and kicking the issue to the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg for its decision, which will be binding on all EU national courts.
In the summer, the court’s advocate-general, whose opinions to the court are not binding but are often reflective of what will be the court’s final decision, issued a scathing anti-settlement opinion nullifying the French court’s ruling.
“Just as many European consumers objected to the purchase of South African goods in the pre-1994 apartheid era, present-day consumers may object on similar grounds to the purchase of goods from a particular country,” wrote Gerard Hogan in his advisory opinion to the court.
He called the settlements a “manifest breach of international law” and concluded that the court should rule that EU law requires that products “originating in a territory occupied by Israel since 1967” must be so labeled.