David vs Goliath in Armani suits?

Nonbinding guidelines are being drafted, while Britain, Denmark and Holland already relabel goods from settlements.

EU building 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler)
EU building 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler)
European Union members are going to label products for import from “West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem” or from “occupied territories,” but not “Made or Grown in Israel” unless from within pre-1967 borders.
Nonbinding guidelines are being drafted, while Britain, Denmark and Holland already relabel goods from settlements.
“Israel Settlement Produce” appears on British imports.
The EU is ceasing to offer grants, prizes and financial instruments to entities that benefit settlers or have some ties to the territories. The recipients, including the government of Israel, might have to sign a pledge that no settlements benefit from the grants, etc., and occupied territories are not part of sovereign Israel.
Talk of the guidelines is rattling the chains of Israeli politicians, bloggers and businesspeople. They denounce the EU decision for mixing business and politics, moral righteousness and diplomacy, entangling them in a tenacious web of economic ostracism. Israel’s failure to comply with the guidelines “excuse some European countries to boycott all Israeli goods,” warned the spokesperson for the new president of the EU.
The EU actions add gravitas to the delegitimization of Israel, fueling the flames of boycotts and disinvestment movements. Three major European retail chains already boycott settlement products, and other retailers boycott anything from Israel.
A boycott is commonly considered a voluntary act where one does not buy products or utilize services of another, a country or an organization. It is economic warfare for social or political reasons. The term was coined in 1880 when tenant farmers shunned Irish Captain Charles Boycott, who evicted them during a particularly bad harvest season.
Sanctions are international bans on trade and financial services, such as banking services and gold trading, employing coercive measures to ensure compliance with international law and change behavior of a country’s leaders.
In addition to labels, the EU might impose special tariffs making them outrageously expensive. Limiting grants to institutions with no affiliations to the occupied territories might preclude professors teaching at Tel Aviv University or living and conducting research east of the 1967 borders.
EU officials told The Jerusalem Post this was a long time coming. It is “a service to the consumer,” eliminating misinformation and misleading labels, one source said. Second, it is time to nudge Israel into compliance with EU policy that the 1967 borders are the only ones the EU recognizes and that resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict is of the highest priority. “Without this, there will be little chance of dealing with other problems in the Middle East.” (2003 European Security Strategy) Boycotts and sanctions abound. At the turn of the 20th century, Polish nationalists boycotted German goods and Jewish businesses over economic disputes with Russia. Today, China boycotts Japanese products in their dispute over ownership of certain islands. America’s boycott and sanctions against Cuba are now in place more than half a century. Academic studies of sanctions generally agree with Prof. Taehee Whang that “sanctions mostly fail to extract political concessions from target states.” Their symbolic dimension is for “domestic political purposes... and elevate the popularity of the incumbent leaders.”
The EU actions come at a time when the ability of the organization to right member economies is flagging, financial and sex scandals plague the leadership and EU foreign policy appears toothless. Israel and the Jews once again become the fall guy in the face of Europe’s impotence to save itself. This is not to say that EU actions will be ineffective.
The EU is Israel’s largest trading partner. Imports from EU countries totaled $22.4 billion in 2012, and exports to them exceed $14.2b. a year; $300 million a year of largely agricultural goods are exported from settlements to European countries each year.
If Israel chooses to retaliate, cut backs on EU imports will exacerbate their struggling economies. The Defense Ministry is halting cooperation with the EU and their NGOs in select areas of the West Bank in a retaliatory act that will undoubtedly hurt the bottom line of European construction companies.
Israel has several things going in its favor that will mitigate the EU actions. It is a small country with a long reach.
It boasts a stable, popularly supported government, a healthy financial system and a heavy reliance on high-demand military hardware and cutting-edge technology sales.
It is a matter of opening new markets with trading partners in North America and friends in Africa to absorb lost agricultural sales in Europe. Consumers are fickle and might surprise their leaders by purposely buying products from the West Bank, the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem once informed about the availability of these products. It may be their way of promoting peace and cooperation, enhancing economic prosperity of the region. They might want to do it out of religious commitment as well.
Who knows, but instead of pounding fists and writing blogs about moral turpitude of the EU, Israel needs a well-organized marketing campaign fully funded by the government to promote brotherhood, peace, economic prosperity and harmony on lands where Jews, Muslims and Christians work and live together.
The bottom line is that sanctions rarely achieve the political and social designs, especially in the age of globalization.
After all the Europeans have wrought upon the Jews, not eating our apples is risible. So let the EU members have their fantasies. Fantasies are, according to Dr. Seuss, “a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.”
Dr. Harold Goldmeier is the managing partner of Goldmeier Investments LLC and an instructor of business and social policy at the American Jewish University, Aardvark Israel, in Tel Aviv.