UK gov't discusses new W. Bank labels

Jewish groups, Oxfam, British officials meet to determine how to mark products from the territories.

anti israel protest 248 88 (photo credit: )
anti israel protest 248 88
(photo credit: )
A meeting held this week to look at the issue of labeling produce from the West Bank had no foreign policy implications and did not advocate any position on a boycott of Israeli produce, the British government says. The issue was raised following a meeting in Whitehall on Tuesday between government officials and representatives from food retailers, in which Oxfam officials participated, to discuss the labeling of produce from the West Bank. Oxfam had written to Prime Minister Gordon Brown calling for clearer guidelines for produce originating from settlements, and this facilitated the NGO's inclusion in the meeting, according to the Foreign Office and the Cabinet Office. "Oxfam were invited because they have shown a consistent interest in this issue, but this was essentially a meeting between retail groups and the government," a Foreign Office representatives said. Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council and a board member of the Fair Play Campaign Group, a community campaign against initiatives to boycott Israel, said, "By involving groups which campaign for a boycott and a ban on all settlement goods, the government is making it harder to believe that this meeting is purely about giving consumers choice." The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said the meeting was called to look at the feasibility of implementing clearer labeling on produce from the the "occupied Palestinian territories" and to examine a new draft of voluntary guidances for retailers. The department will be in charge of editing the guidelines, set to be published at the end of the month. "As the government has previously said, the objective of the guidance remains to help retailers and traders provide clearer origin-labeling for products sourced from the occupied Palestinian territories, with particular focus on the West Bank," the spokesman said. "It could be some time before any proposed guidelines surface. We hope that the government will take this time to reflect further on the consequences of singling out Israel in this manner and the very real danger of this policy encouraging those pressing for a full program of anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions," Newmark said. Jennifer Abrahamson, an Oxfam spokeswoman, said that the charity did not call for a boycott of Israeli goods. "We are not in support of settlements and people should know that they are illegal. We believe that consumers should know where their produce comes from," she said.