Israel: EU decision to label settlement products may harm ties with Brussels

Foreign Ministry summons the European Union’s Ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, to explain the decision.

What's the harm in settlement labeling? Israelis and Palestinians weigh in
Israel condemned as discriminatory a European Union decision to publish guidelines to allow for consumer labels on imports produced over the Green Line, to signify that they were not made in Israel.
It warned that the move could harm Israeli European relations.
“We regret that the EU took this politically motivated and unusual and discriminatory step, that it learned from the world of boycotts,” the Foreign Ministry said in a harshly worded statement.
The Foreign Ministry also summoned the European Union’s Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen to explain the decision by the European Commission, which is the political body in Brussels.
An EU official told Reuters that the Commission had "adopted this morning the Interpretative Notice on indication of origin of goods from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967.”
Since the issue was first raised in 2012, the EU has downplayed it as a technical matter. It has explained that it is not a boycott of Israel, but rather a measure design to inform the consumer that the products were not made in Israel.
The EU holds that all territory over the pre-1967 lines, including east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank are not part of Israel and therefore its products can not be labeled as “made in Israel.”
But it was only on Wednesday that it provided member states with legal information explaining how to properly make those products under the guidelines of existing legislation.
The Foreign Ministry dismissed as “baseless” and “cynical” any EU claim that the matter was technical.
There are 200 territorial conflicts in the world and the EU has not weighed in favor of one side over the other by marking products as “not made” in one of those countries, it said.
Marking products as made in the settlements won’t help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Foreign Ministry said and added that if anything it would make it worse, because it would encourage the Palestinians not to resume negotiations with Israel.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called the decision "anti-Israel and anti-Jewish," and said she plans to look into possible legal action against the EU.
"The European hypocrisy and their hatred of Israel has crossed every line," she stated. "It's interesting that they do not label products from the Western Sahara or [northern] Cyprus."
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid took to Twitter to write: "Jews are being stabbed in the streets & the EU has given in to BDS. This decision discriminates against Israel & encourages terrorism."
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) pointed out that Israel does have some room to make sure the decision does not have disastrous results, because each EU country can decide whether to adopt it or not.
"Israel must go from country to country and convince them not to adopt the decision," she stated. "In order for that to happen, we need the right policy. We must say the prime minister's policy is really two states, and prove it, so they will understand there is no reason to push us into a corner."
MK Itzik Shmuly (Zionist Union) said the EU's decision was "stupid, harmful and unhelpful, which leaves a stain on Europe's forehead."
According to Shmuly, "residents of Hamburg or Copenhagen do not really understand where the Green Line starts and ends, and the decision will end up leading to a boycott of all of Israel.
"Unfortunately, Europe decided to shamefully strengthen those who lead the campaign of boycotting Israel, whose goal is to erase Israel from the map and not to promote peace," Shmuly added.
MK Michael Oren (Kulanu), a former ambassador to the US, told The Jerusalem Post that he thinks labeling settlement products is anti-Semitic.
"There are 200 land disputes around the world, and they single us out, and say it's not anti-Semitic?" he asked, incredulously.
Oren explained why, last week, he went to a Jerusalem supermarket and put "Made in Europe" stickers on European products.
"I'm not saying we should boycott Europe," he said. "We just need to diversify. Thirty percent of our products are from Europe. We need to wean ourselves off of it."
Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) said that perhaps Israelis who live in the West Bank or Golan Heights should label themselves when visiting Europe.
"Unfortunately, we are not far from returning to the dark days of Europe in which Jews were labeled with a gold star," Slomiansky stated.
Conversely, MK Esawi Frej (Meretz) said that the EU decision was the right thing to do, in that it will "allow the Israeli market to rid itself of the painful hunchback of the settlements."
The decision "allows European consumers who do not want to boycott Israel, but do not want to fund the occupation, to buy Israeli products without being concerned that they are funding settlements and the occupation," he explained.
MK Youssef Jabareen (Joint List) said the EU made the right decision, because "settlements are illegal according to international law."
He expressed hope that the EU will make it illegal to import settlement products, which he called "the fruits of a poisoned tree."
Avi Ro'eh, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria, wrote an angry letter to the European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, in which he said that the decision would only further fan the flames of the already violent conflict.
“At a time when Palestinian terrorism is running high across Israel, the EU has decided to boycott the industrial areas in Judea and Samaria which are islands of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Businesses like these, in which Arabs and Jews work together, should be used as the gold standard for peace, not boycotted. If the EU wants to see real coexistence, they should come and visit Judea and Samaria, then it would be clear they are labeling the wrong people," Ro'eh said.
Since 2003, the EU has placed a numerical code on Israeli imports to allow customs to distinguish between products made within the Green Line and those that are produced beyond it.
Products produced in east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank are excluded from the Israel Free Trade agreement with the EU.
The guidelines extend that process one step further, providing member states legal instructions as to the placement of consumer labels on relevant products to inform European consumers that they are not made in Israel.
The EU had delayed the publication of the guidelines in 2013 at the request of the US, which at the time was brokering a nine-month negotiation process between Israel and the Palestinians. That process failed in April 2014 and no new initiatives have replaced it. In the absence of any prospect of renewed negotiations, the EU is pressing forward with the consumer labels.