Truth in EU Labeling: 'Produced by Paranoid Lunatics in the West Bank'

EU hypocrisy has been kind to Israel: It didn’t take decades for the EU to slap sanctions on Russia and they weren't labels reading 'Made in Crimea (Russian occupation').

David Rosenberg
David Rosenberg
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Picture shows a woman's hand reaching for pdocucts made by AHAVA Dead Sea cosmetics, made in Mitzpe Shalem, in the West Bank, in 2011.
AHAVA Dead Sea cosmetic products manufactured in the Israeli Kibbutz settlement of Mitzpe Shalem, in the West Bank.Credit: AFP
David Rosenberg
David Rosenberg

If the European Union had really been intent last week on enforcing truth in labeling, it wouldn't have troubled itself with suggested designations like "Product of the West Bank (Israeli settlement)." It should have insisted on something like "Product of a bunch of lunatic paranoids that see anti-Semitism and Israel’s imminent destruction lurking in every corner."

Admittedly that would be a lot words to put on a red pepper or a vial of Ahava cosmetics, but it certainly would not have been any more demanding on the time-pressed shopper than the host of other information that appears on modern packaging, whether it is a long list of unpronounceable ingredients or lists of animals that are not being tested on, or people not being oppressed.

Israeli leaders reacted with hysteria of the kind you would expect from Internet posts, not from people supposed to set an example for public discourse.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz compared the EU decision to the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses. “We all remember when Jewish products were last labeled in Europe,” was his considered response. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog saw parallels between the EU guidelines to the UN "Zionism is racism" resolution 40 years ago, and quoted his father, Chaim Herzog: “This decision is based on hatred, falsehood and ignorance, devoid of any moral value.” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked described the move as "anti-Israel and anti-Jewish."

Bibi, apparently still recovering from the historic boner of blaming the mufti for the Holocaust, was more restrained. But our prime minister still couldn't help finding something ridiculous to say and in his case, linked the EU action to the war on terror. "We do not accept the fact that Europe is labeling the side being attacked by terrorist acts," he declared.

Even the Foreign Ministry couldn’t avoid jumping in with a disproportionate response of its own: "Product labeling will strengthen the radical elements advocating a boycott against Israel and denying Israel’s right to exist, contradicting positions the EU publicly opposes."

Made in Crimea?

In all fairness to its critics, the EU is being smarmy and hypocritical. It is being smarmy in the sense that it is claiming the labeling guidelines are a technical matter aimed providing consumers with accurate product information, which no one believes. It is being hypocritical in the sense that it has hasn't imposed similar labeling on other occupied territories. But these are minor objections.

As political measures go, this labeling is a very mild statement of protest, hardly a strike at the existence of the Jewish state.

As it is, the EU has denied trade privileges to settlement products for more than a decade; requiring a label saying where the products are actually made is a logical, if symbolic, extension of EU policy.

The EU has done nothing about China's occupation of Tibet, but its hypocrisy has done well by Israel, historically: It didn't take the EU 50 years to react to Russia's aggression in Crimea.Credit: Google Maps, elaboration by Haaretz

As far as hypocrisy goes, the EU isn't being particularly outrageous. Being two-faced is stock in trade in diplomacy, where at the end of day, national interests inevitably prevail over morality by a wide margin.

In any case, Israel has done pretty well vis a vis the EU on the hypocrisy scale. Yes, the EU has been soft on Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara or China's takeover of Tibet, but it reacted quickly and forcefully when Russia invaded Crimea, imposing trade and investment sanctions immediately, rather than wait half a century to order goods be labeled "Product of Crimea (Russian occupation)."

Who's turning in his grave, who

And as far the anti-Semitism charges go, they are an insult to authentic Jew haters. The mufti must be turning in his grave. Maybe if the EU had insisted that products say "Made by a Jew," that argument could be made. But the fact is for anti-Semites and anyone else who doesn't like Israel "Product of Israel" is quite enough to warn them of its ethno-religious origin.

Of course, the EU labeling distinguishes between products made in settlements from those made everywhere else in the territories, but that problem wasn't created by the EU but by the settlers, who wouldn't dream of a Palestinian living in a settlement.

Thankfully, no one has been warning about the EU directives' dire economic consequences, therefore saving Israel from at least one more embarrassing category of ranting. The guidelines cover farm products, wine and cosmetics -- not manufactured goods --and those don’t add up to more than a few tens of millions of dollars in exports to Europe every year.

Even those exports are unlikely to be much affected. The number of people, even in Europe, who a) boycott settlements but not Israel and b) take the trouble to carefully examine origin of product labels can be counted on the toes of a three-toed sloth.

Those kind of people make a lot of noise, but their buying power is virtually zero. Even the BDS movement, which serves as their home, doesn't make a distinction between Israel and the settlements -- they want everything made in Israel boycotted. Their life isn't being made easier by the new guidelines, even if they are applauding them.

So the bottom line is some smarmy politics, a little hypocrisy, no anti-Semitism and no economic fallout. So what is all the fuss really about?
It's about the settlers' split personality, the one that makes them an integral part of Israel when it suits them and occupiers when it doesn't. They enjoy the legal fiction that entitles them to all the rights and privileges of citizens living inside the Green Line, including making products that carry a label "Made in Israel," even though Israel has never annexed the territories. They even want to be special Israelis, entitled to tax breaks regardless of their personal financial status and other benefits to compensate for their efforts at building the Greater Land of Israel.

But when it comes to other things, like imposing Israeli labor law in West Bank industrial zones or giving all Palestinian residents of the West Bank full rights, which would be an inevitable consequence of annexation, suddenly the occupation doesn't look so bad.

It's not that the settlers and their supporters oppose the Green Line any more than the EU. They just want it to run where it works best for them. In the case of product labeling, the EU made a decision to draw it in a place the settlers and their supporters in the government don't find so useful.



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