One sign that the our world is going topsy-turvy, with little rhyme or reason, is the City Council of Reykjavik’s (Iceland’s capital, population 120,000) decision earlier this month to impose a full boycott on Israeli products. Reykjavik’s decision is symptomatic of the irrationality in large portions of the western world. Fortune (September 17, 2015) reported that, “Bjork Vihelmsdotter, a councilwoman for the Social Democratic Alliance, was the one to put this motion forward. She will soon be retiring, and this was her last major act as a councilwoman. The motion states that the city will boycott Israeli goods ‘as long as the occupation of Palestinian territories continues,’ adding that it’s a symbolic action to show that the city supports Palestinian independence.”
The decision is not only legally and morally questionable, it displays ignorance of Middle East realities in general and in the territories in particular. There was never a Palestinian state, and therefore Israel is not “occupying” Palestinian territory. Jordan held the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) until 1967, when King Hussein decided to join Nasser of Egypt to liquidate the Jewish state. He lost. In any case, the West Bank occupation by Jordan in 1948 was never recognized by the International community (only Britain and Pakistan recognized it).
Professor and Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, who served as President of the International Court of Justice, explains that the principle of ‘acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible’ must be read together with other principles, ‘namely, that no legal right shall spring from wrong, and the Charter principle that members of the United Nations shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.’ In other words, territories acquired through wars of aggression don’t hold validity, which effectively repudiates Jordanian claims to Judea and Samaria (West Bank). Observers argue that Jordan officially renounced her claims to Judea and Samaria and signed a peace agreement with Israel without gaining back these territories reveals the water-tight case for Israel’s jurisdiction there.” Professor Schwebel added, “Between Israel acting defensively in 1948 and 1967 on the one hand, and her Arab neighbors acting aggressively in 1948 and 1967 on the other, Israel has the better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem, than do Jordan or Egypt.”
Of all the ills of the world, only democratic Israel is deemed the global “villain,” to be punished by boycotts. The mass slaughter of 250,000 Syrians by the Assad regime does not “qualify” it for boycott. The gross human rights violations by Iran against minorities and gays are no cause for Reykjavik’s City Council to boycott the Islamic Republic. Russia’s occupation of Crimea and China’s occupation of Tibet are no reasons for the City Council to boycott Chinese or Russian products. Nor does Reykjavik’s City Council concern itself with Saudi Arabia and the other 56 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), none of which are democracies where human rights, religious freedom, or democratic norms are nonexistant.
StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein best described the outrageous decision by the City Council of Reykjavik, pointing out that “Israel is the only functioning democracy in the Middle East, and the boycott movement against it is fueled by racism, not a genuine desire for a just peace. These types of actions do nothing to build a better future for Israelis or Palestinians – many of whom strongly oppose a boycott against Israel because it harms everyone. Instead, Iceland’s ill-conceived decision provides momentum to anti-Semitic movements already growing in Europe.”
In both Reykjavik and the Icelandic government there has been recognition that the Reykjavik City Council was wrong in its decision to single out Israel for a boycott. The left-wing parties’ (it seems) have sought to curry favor with the Palestinians and Islam while finding the Jewish state an easy target (15 million Jews globally vs. 1.6 billion Muslims). Einar Gautur Steingrimsson, a Reykjavik lawyer pointed out that the City Council’s decision to boycott Israel violates the Icelandic constitution. He told a local news site that “Reykjavik does not have the authority to determine foreign policy. This ruling (by the Council) is as illegal as refusing to do business with red haired people and it makes no difference whether they justify their decision with references to some alleged actions by the Israelis.”
The Israeli government was encouraged by the City of Reykjavik’s reversal on boycotting Israeli products. A senior official with the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that Reykjavik shows that “what began as a boycott against Israeli products produced in the West Bank turned into a boycott against all products made in Israel.”
The bigger picture however is the EU stance with regards to Israeli products produced in Judea and Samaria by Jews. The EU is said to be putting sanctions on these products initially. The EU plans to conclude a directive next month, which will demand the labeling of Israeli settlement products. It is the latest in a series of directives targeting Israel. The EU Foreign Minister Frederica Mogherini stated in the European Parliament earlier this month that labeling Israeli products from the “settlements” is a foregone conclusion.
Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely declared last week that Israel is prepared for the possibility of waging a legal campaign against the EU decision, and should the EU implement its decision to label Israeli products, Israel would reject EU participation in negotiations with the Palestinians. Hotovely will travel to Europe in the next few weeks to present Israel’s case. Simultaneously, Israel is considering legal options against the EU. According to Israeli political sources, “labeling of products” by the EU may violate International Trade Agreement provisions.
Israel rejects the EU claim that the “labeling of products” is merely a technical devise without any political motivation. Israel’s understanding is that “labeling” is a pure political move intended to pressure Israel to withdraw from Judea and Samaria, a move that will be catastrophic to Israel’s security. The EU move will also hurt the peace process with the Palestinians, and deem the EU a biased party that cannot be a partner in the negotiation process. In addition, the EU decision will ultimately hurt the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria who will lose their jobs due to the EU’s restrictions on Israeli exports. The moral side of EU “labeling” is yet another story. Seventy years after the Holocaust, Europe is once again marking and selecting Jews for exclusion and punishment. The EU has not imposed similar measures on other territories it deems “occupied,” such as Western Sahara, Kashmir, or Northern Cyprus (Cyprus is a member of the EU, and its northern territory is occupied by Turkey) and WTO rules explicitly prohibit discriminatory trading policies.
Reykjavik’s City Council boycott of Israel is symptomatic of the European latent anti-Semitism that is irrational and ultimately self-damaging. Thankfully, reason does still exist among segments of Europe’s population, including Iceland. The Iceland Review (September 19, 2015) reported that “Independent Party councilor Kjartan Magnusson points out that some international coverage of the event (City Council decision to boycott Israel) seems to indicate that the council voted unanimously for the action, which is not true. All Independence Party councilors, for example, voted against it. The party’s leader in the council, Halldor Halldorsson, says the decree is “nonsense” which should be rescinded at the first opportunity.”
Reykjavik demonstrates that European political correctness may spare the individual Jew from overt discrimination, yet Israel, the collective Jew, still bears the brunt of European bigotry.