EU Move Inspires Scorn From Jewish Groups, Praise From Rights Groups

EU approval of guidelines to label Israeli products made in West Bank settlements condemned by some as anti-Israel, while others hailed the measure as a victory for human rights.

A worker lifts boxes holding wine bottles for export at Shiloh Wineries, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. November 8, 2015.
Reuters

Organizations praised and condemned the European Union’s decision to approve the labeling of products from West Bank settlements.

European Jewish Congress President Dr. Moshe Kantor called the guidelines problematic and a “double standard,” pointing out in a statement issued Wednesday that there are “no comparable guidelines for any other territorial dispute or what are perceived as occupations anywhere else in the world.”

“We see that once again Israel is singled out for special treatment above all other nations of the world and this is clearly discriminatory and stands in stark contradistinction to the EU’s own mandate to be fair and free of prejudice,” Kantor said.

The European Commissioner in Brussels on Wednesday morning adopted the “notice on indication of origin of goods from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967." The guidelines, which are not new legislation, but clarify certain elements linked to the interpretation and the effective implementation of existing EU legislation, are not officially adopted until they appear in the EU legal gazette, the Official Journal, later Wednesday or on Thursday.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement in support of the labeling settlement products.

“The EU’s new guidelines on accurately labeling settlement products are in line with states’ duty to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law, under which settlements are illegal,” said Sarah Saadoun, who researches settlements at Human Rights Watch. “Other states should follow the EU’s example.”

“Labeling products produced in Israeli settlements gives businesses and consumers the information they need to avoid supporting industries that contribute to violations of human rights,” said Saadoun.

Peace Now also expressed its support, saying it views the labeling guidelines as “a means to oppose the occupation and, thereby, support Israel.”

“Peace Now has always considered the settlement enterprise as the main obstacle to a two state solution, and, like the settlers themselves, views Israeli factories and economic institutions within the West Bank as a political statement. A more accurate labeling system, as Israel never annexed the West Bank, will allow European residents to make purchases according to ideological considerations. Further, this system will help curb efforts to boycott Israel entirely, such as those advocated by the BDS movement,” the group said in a statement.

Professor Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor called the guidelines “another act in the ongoing NGO campaign to delegitimize Israel,”

“This strategy is also the driving force of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns, and it is led by EU-funded NGOs that are detrimental to a peaceful, negotiated solution,” Steinberg said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

“For years, the EU has given money earmarked for humanitarian aid and peace-building to political groups that abuse human rights to promote their own agendas. These organizations have lobbied hard for the EU to adopt their ideas, with the rhetoric of “consumer choice” masking what is clearly an anti-Israel measure,” according to the statement. “NGO Monitor research shows that NGOs push labeling as a first step in the BDS process, aimed at all Israeli products and services.”

Other cases of long-standing occupation include Morocco's seizure of Western Sahara and Cyprus, seized by Turkey in 1974, which Israeli officials say are not treated in the same way. 

Israel's Economy Ministry estimates the impact of Wednesday's decision will be about $50 million a year, affecting fresh produce such as grapes and dates, wine, poultry, honey, olive oil and cosmetics made from Dead Sea minerals. 

That is around a fifth of the $200-$300 million worth of goods produced in settlements each year, but a drop in the ocean next to the $30 billion of goods and services traded between Israel and the European Union each year. 

Reuters contributed to this report