German Foreign Ministry backs labeling Israeli settlement products

The German Foreign Ministry added “there will not be an Israel boycott in Germany” and “Israeli products will, of course, continue to receive preferential market access.”

December 4, 2015 19:45
3 minute read.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier attends the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's annual Convocation ceremony. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Germany’s Foreign Ministry announced on Friday its support for the European Union’s labeling of Israeli products from the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

In an email to The Jerusalem Post, the ministry defended the EU label, saying it “does not deal with a stigmatized warning decal, as many have presented… What Brussels wants is, however, only a clear designation of the origin of the products.”

The Post sent a press query to Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Social Democratic Party) asking whether he is for or against EU guidelines marking products and whether he views the labeling system as a modern form of anti-Semitism.

The ministry’s reply, attributed to Steinmeier, was that “there will not be an Israel boycott in Germany” and “Israeli products will, of course, continue to receive preferential market access.”

Steinmeier’s position appears to contradict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement last month praising “the German government, which came out against product labeling.”

Israel’s National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz termed the EU label measure “disguised anti-Semitism.”

A spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Post by phone that the federal government is reviewing the Post query. Merkel has said she opposes boycotts of Israel, but has not issued a public statement on EU product labels.

Asked if Vice Chancellor and Federal Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel – a social democrat – favors the labeling of Israeli products, a spokesman told the Post by email: “Because the European Commission with its ‘Interpretative Note’ from October,2015 deals mainly with affected food goods and some cosmetics it is the responsibility of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.”

Post queries were sent to Social Democratic Party headquarters and its Bundestag faction seeking a statement.

Germany’s Parliament President Norbert Lammert said Wednesday during a visit to Berlin by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein that labeling is “unnecessary and unwise. Germany not only didn’t agree to the decision, it rejected it,” he flatly stated.

When asked whether the EU’s not having called to label products from places like Tibet or Crimea or the Western Sahara is an indication of anti-Semitism, Lammert said he could “understand Israel’s anger.”

Edelstein quoted the German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who said that “in a place where books are burned, people will be burned.”

He added: “I fear that in a place where products are labeled by where they were produced, we will one day label people by where they come from. The bleak history taught us the meaning of discriminatory labeling and to where it can deteriorate.”

Germany and Israel are about to reach closure on an anniversary year filled with events celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations. The Israeli Embassy in Berlin on Friday declined to comment on Steinmeier’s advocacy of product labels.

The European Union says products made in settlements beyond the Green Line are incorrectly demarcated if they say “made in Israel.” The EU does not recognize the settlements as part of Israel proper.

In contrast to Steinmeier’s assertion that Israeli products will be ostracized, Jurgen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union factions in the German Bundestag, called the EU measure a stigma on Israel.

“In view of the background of a movement hostile to Israel, which seeks to boycott products from the settlements, the EU measure is false,” he said. “It is very likely that the EU’s measure will be exploited... by a campaign hostile to Israel.”

After Hardt’s comments in November, the Berlin-based department store KaDeWe removed eight Israeli wines from its shelves. Responding to protests from Israeli and German politicians and consumers, KaDeWe apologized and restored the products to the wine section.

Steinmeier’s Social Democratic Party is part of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in November that the EU decision was “discriminatory with a sharp smell of boycott.”

Greece announced it will defy the EU mandate to label Israeli products. Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó rejects product labels, saying in November the European Union’s decision to affix special labels on such products was “irrational.”

Herb Keinon, Lahav Harkov, and Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.

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