U.S. 'Deeply Concerned' Over EU Ruling to Label Products From Israeli Settlements

On Tuesday, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that member states must identify products from Israeli settlement by marking their origin on the label

Psagot winery, 2015
AP

The United States is "deeply concerned" by the European Court of Justice's ruling on Tuesday stating that EU states must identify products from Israeli settlement by marking their origin on the label, a statement by the State Department said on Wednesday, noting it is suggestive of an "anti-Israel bias."

Simply indicating that goods originate in the state of Israel, when in fact they came from an occupied territory, could mislead consumers about the fact that Israel "is present in the territories concerned as an occupying power and not as a sovereign entity," the European Court of Justice (ECJ) found.

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The State Department statement said that the "circumstances surrounding the labeling requirement in the specific facts presented to the Court are suggestive of anti-Israel bias," and stressed that the U.S. unequivocally opposes any effort to engage in attempts to economically pressure or isolate Israel.

"The path toward resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict is through direct negotiations," the statement said, not through attempts to delegitimize Israel. 

Tuesday's ruling stipulated that product information must allow consumers to make informed choices relating "not only to health, economic, environmental and social considerations, but also to ethical considerations," as well as the observance of international law.

The case now reverts to the French courts for a final ruling, in line with the ECJ verdict.

The European Union does not consider the ruling to be discriminatory. A spokesperson at the EU delegation to Israel said that all products placed on the EU market, domestically produced or imported, must have product information that is correct and not misleading for consumers.

"The EU policy on indication of origin of products coming from illegal settlements in occupied territories is based on international law, not on discriminatory considerations," the spokesperson added. "This interpretation is not discriminatory and it is not against Israel."

The spokesperson also said the EU does not support any form of boycott or sanctions against Israel, and rejects "attempts by the campaigns of the so-called boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to isolate Israel."

"Products originating in Israel within its internationally recognized borders benefit from preferential tariff treatment in line with the EU-Israel trade agreement under the EU-Israel Association Agreement upon their entry into the European Union," the spokesperson added. "Products originating from the settlements outside the internationally recognized borders ... have not been blocked and will not be blocked from entry into the EU. However, no preferences or other trade facilitation measures under EU legislation or agreements apply to goods originating in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights."

The European Commission released a statement they were "taking note" of the court's decision, adding that "clear and non-misleading indication of origin is an essential part of the EU's consumer policy."

In order to clarify its position, the EU reiterated some of its commitments, including the fact that the court ruling "does not concern products from Israel itself," but that, according to its "long-standing and well-known position," it will only accept changes to the pre-1967 borders by mutual Israeli-Palestinian agreement. 

"The EU considers settlements in occupied territories illegal under international law," the statement said. 

According to the EU commission, if the verdict does represent EU policy, implementation is left to the member states. 

Last June, an advocate general of the European Court of Justice released his legal opinion that a 2018 decision by a French court not to require marking wine bottles produced in Jewish West Bank settlements is invalid.

The advocate general noted that EU law requires that a product made on a territory captured by Israel since 1967 be marked as produced in the settlements.

In 2018, a French court granted the Psagot Winery's request not to enforce the EU directive to mark products manufactured in the settlements, however, ordered that the ECJ should review the decision since France is subjected to the EU law.

According to the directive, consumers must be explicitly informed whether products were made in the West Bank.

Psagot claimed marking the products is contradictory to the local constitution. 

So far, the EU decision has barely been implemented. Psagot's petition to the ECJ, which led to the advocate general's decision, might cause a more significant enforcement of the EU law, exactly the opposite of what the winery wanted to achieve.

The winery did not receive financial support from the State of Israel during legal proceedings, fearing its request will lead to an unwanted outcome.

Psagot issued a statement, calling the decision “tainted with discrimination, double standards and severe hypocrisy,” choosing to note the decision was issued “on the very same day that Palestinian terror organizations are firing rockets at millions of Israeli citizens.”

Psagot Winery's CEO Yaakov Berg said that "the winery is proud of its contribution to battle the decision and intends to continue fighting it. We are encouraged by the support we've gain among relevant figures in Israel, and the United States, including the State Department , the U.S. Senate and Congress."

Berg added that that "As Jews and Israelis, we see our work as a great mission. We've acted as Israelis who are living in a community established with the approval of [the Israeli] government and who only seek to manufacture and export wine of great quality that has a reputation all over the world. This decision takes the world back and is not relevant to current times. It is not acceptable to us, and therefore we'll continue fighting it." 

Following the State Department's statement, Berg said it is "very important" in supporting "our struggle against the boycott and hypocrisy campaign," which he said was strengthened by the ECJ ruling. "We will continue this just and moral struggle."

Israel rejected the decision via a statement from its foreign ministry, calling the ECJ “a tool in the political campaign against Israel.”

“The ruling's entire objective is to single out and apply a double standard against Israel. There are over 200 ongoing territorial disputes across the world, yet the ECJ has not rendered a single ruling related to the labeling of products originating from these territories. Today’s ruling is both political and discriminating against Israel," said the statement.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz added that "The European Court of Justice’s ruling is unacceptable both morally and in principle. I intend to work with European foreign ministers to prevent the implementation of this gravely flawed policy.”