Labeling Israel: The Power of Grandstanding
The European Union is righteous but hypocritical to decide that goods produced in Israeli settlements occupied since 1967 no longer be labeled "Made in Israel" or "Product of Israel." This will not help Palestinians, many of them work for settlement businesses. As the EU is negotiating a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, this signals that Europe sees trade as an avenue for meaningless political posturing.
The universal human tendency to aim for maximum righteousness and then wallow in it is heartening in a way, even if substance is lacking. This is best observed in politics. While far from being alone, EU politicians seem to have a particular talent for that righteous-if-asinine, or righteous-but-hypocritical touch. The EU and its offices in Brussels (ditto its superfluous but costly offices in Strasbourg) give countless examples, lately its decision that products produced in Israeli settlements (e.g. West Bank, Golan Heights, East Jerusalem) no longer be labeled "Made in Israel" or "Product of Israel" .
This politically correct labeling initiative, meant to let consumers boycott the products in question, mostly affects agricultural commodities and cosmetics. Presumably not because it's OK to mislead in other categories, but because that's what the majority of the output of the settlements is. (Labeling pre-packaged food products or most industrial goods, meanwhile, is up to the individual EU countries, but can't be "misleading", which is a considerable loophole.) All this goes back at least to 2012, when EU officials started looking into ways to jam a stick into the export-spokes of settlement products. They finally found Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament to underpin the European Commission's "Interpretative Notice on indication of origin of goods from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967" published November 11th this year. Therein it states that:
"The European Union, in line with international law, does not recognise Israel's sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967, namely the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and does not consider them to be part of Israel's territory…
The application of existing Union legislation on indication of origin of products to products originating in Israeli-occupied territories has been the subject of notices or guidance adopted by the relevant authorities of several Member States. There is indeed a demand for clarity from consumers, economic operators and national authorities about existing Union legislation on origin information of products from Israeli-occupied territories…
…Since the Golan Heights and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) are not part of the Israeli territory according to international law, the indication ‘product from Israel' is considered to be incorrect and misleading in the sense of the referenced legislation."
European customers, the supposed dunces pushed to the argumentative front-line by their ideologically motivated politicians, can't make an informed decision, the statement goes on, if they can only read "Product for Israel" when a product in fact hails from one of the Occupied Territories. This is of course excellent news for the more sophisticated among Europe's anti-Israel majority. As it were, the largest department store in Europe, Berlin's KaDeWe, obliged pre-emptively and immediately pulled all mislabeled products from its shelves. The subsequent outcry caused an about-face the next day.
"For products from Palestine (this designation shall not be construed as recognition of a State of Palestine and is without prejudice to the individual positions of the Member States on this issue) that do not originate from settlements, an indication which does not mislead about the geographical origin, while corresponding to international practice, could be ‘product from the West Bank (Palestinian product)', ‘product from Gaza' or ‘product from Palestine'."
Will this help Palestinians? Of course not. Many Palestinians work for settlement businesses, although interestingly – and adding a bit of gray to the issue – they are exempt from Israeli labor laws in settlement businesses. Will it help Europe? Not in any meaningful way… except for the few producers who might benefit from settlement-labeled oranges or olive oil being avoided in favor of their settlement-pure offerings. It surely takes a willfully insensitive bunch of politicians not to see at least some parallels, for all their "right-to-information" charade, to the "Don't buy with Jews" labeling that was once so popular in continental Europe. The fact that the EU has voiced no intention of insisting on a similar distinction between country and occupied territory for other occupying countries (as Eugene Kontorovich points out in the November 13 New York Times) suggests more than a whiff of Euro-hypocrisy.
Israel of course is complaining, suspending EU contacts over the ‘Palestinian issues', and may bring a legal action, but the amount of produce and other products actually affected by the EU's labeling directive is a miniscule part of Israel's trade with Europe. And with a niche market of pro-Israel customers existing, it might even turn into a boon for the exporters from the settlements.
Who is to gain, then? Perhaps only the politicians who can now feel better about how terribly just they are, zinging Israel a little on this non-issue. Not every action against Israel should be mistaken for antisemitism, but the lusty fervor with which especially the European left likes to claim its high and mighty moral ground against Israel is becoming a 21st century tradition. In this case by sending a message about Israeli-Palestinian tensions with a clear if utterly meaningless tilt towards the Palestinian side. It's politics and economics abused as an expression of trendy zeitgeist. And that trend, however innocuous in its single instances, is worrying. If the EU ever gets fully on board the Palestinian drive for a wholesale boycott of Israel, we know where to look for the roots of that movement. Hungary and Greece have announced they will defy the labels directive: Germany claimed to have concerns, but then its Foreign Ministry decided the labels are A-OK..
Meanwhile, as Europe is eagerly seeking trade-opening measures with the rest of the world, including the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the US, this signals that Europe sees trade as an avenue for meaningless political posturing. And that's just plain stupid.
Jens F. Laurson is a contributer to Forbes.com (SoundAdvice) and Listen Magazine, and is Editor at Large for the International Affairs Forum. George A. Pieler is an attorney, free-lance writer, and former advisor to Bob Dole and Jack Kemp.
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