A major Dutch promoter of boycotts against Israel was last week rebuked for misleading consumers by spreading messages which run "contrary to the truth," according to a precedent ruling by Holland's national advertising board.
The Advertising Code Committee recommended on Tuesday that the Amsterdam-based organization Peace - which describes itself as a consumer group - cease its current campaign against the sale of Israeli products.
Peace's activities came under the committee's scrutiny following a complaint by the Israel Products Center, a Netherlands-based online store specializing in Israeli goods. In February the center's managers complained that a flier which Peace has been circulating has damaged them by targeting their livelihood and brand.
The flyer was circulated inside national and local newspapers. It called for a boycott of Israeli products from the West Bank, but also told readers about "wholesale fraud using false papers and labels" concerning the origin of Israeli products.
Critics of Peace's campaign said that in so doing, Peace was in fact calling for a boycott of all Israeli products. The advertising committee found the campaign created the false impression that the Israel Products Center was engaged in illegal activity. Furthermore, the committee said Peace misled readers by suggesting that the sale of products from the West Bank was illegal.
Acknowledging Peace's freedom of expression, the committee said that "when presenting facts, these facts must be in agreement with the truth."
Elise Friedmann, head of anti-Semitism research at the Center Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI), Holland's largest Zionist group, described the Committee's finding as a "landmark event" in the discussion about the boundaries of freedom of expression.
"The Committee reminds boycott promoters that while they are free to propagate their views, they can't do so by deceiving the public," she said. "It echoes hateful stereotypes about Jews. I hope the distinction will be picked up in other European countries. We need less deceit and hatred, and more rational dialogue."
Peace chairman Joost Hardeman, who is Jewish and says he supports Israel but opposes its occupation of Palestinian land, told Haaretz earlier this year that he rejected the center's allegations.
"We do not propose a comprehensive ban on Israeli goods, and we are opposed to this," he said. "We only demand that consumers be made aware, through labeling, of the origins of the goods they are purchasing."
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