On November 11, the European Commission issued inconsistent and discriminatory labeling requirements for Israeli products originating from territories acquired by Israel during the Six-Day War of 1967, specifically, Judea/Samaria, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The latter two areas were annexed by Israel in the years following the conflict and Israeli law applies in these territories. The Obama administration, demonstrating yet again its penchant for betraying its one true Middle Eastern ally and arguably its closest ally in the world was uncritical of the labeling action and even voiced concurrence.
Products originating from Jewish communities beyond the so-called Green Line can no longer be labeled “Made in Israel.” Instead, a convoluted scheme implemented by the Commission requires that the product be stigmatized as an “Israeli settlement,” alongside the geographical location of the settlement, i.e. the West Bank or Golan Heights. Non-settlement products produced in the West Bank by Palestinians may be labeled with the “Made in Palestine” stamp even though no such country legally exists. The General Assembly’s 2012 Vote to accord Palestine ‘Non-Member Observer State’ status in United Nations, is not legally binding. Only the UN Security Council can confer legal status and past Palestinian efforts to secure that vote failed miserably.
The Commission noted that its interpretive notice was designed to provide “Member States, economic operators and consumers with the necessary information on the indication of origin of products.” This sentiment was echoed by the EU’s ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen, who described the new labeling requirement as a “small technical addition to something that has existed for a very long time.”
This benign explanation can be characterized as nothing short of a boldfaced fabrication. The inconsistent nature of the Commission’s labeling requirements points to more nefarious motivations. They have fooled no one. Proponents and opponents of the labeling requirements clearly understand its political ramifications – an attempt by the EU to unilaterally delineate Israel’s borders; to give the Palestinians and for that matter, the pseudo nation of Syria, everything demanded, dispensing with the need for bilateral negotiations.
Despite the fact that the labeling requirements do not apply to Israeli goods produced in Israel proper (pre-1967 Israel) and do not place restrictions on settlement exports and that settlement exports themselves account for less than 1% of Israel’s total exports to the EU, proponents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) as well as the Hamas terrorist organization have expressed jubilation over the European Commission’s announcement. But all signs indicate that their victory lap may be premature.
Already, the pitiful façade of EU unity appears to be cracking. Germany, the EU’s most powerful and influential member slammed the labeling guidelines as a “mistake” and perceptively noted that these measures “could be exploited for anti-Israel campaigns.” Members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union Party have noted on Israeli TV that Germany stands “firmly with Israel on this matter.” As an aside, it would have been awkward for Germany to have implemented such a scheme for obvious reasons.
On Monday, Hungary announced that it too would not place special labels on Israeli products originating from the Golan or Judea/Samaria. In a particularly frank assessment, Hungary’s foreign minister Péter Szijjártó, termed the Commission’s labeling requirements, “irrational” and argued for a strengthening of ties between the EU and Israel. The following day, the chairman for the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with Israel, Fulvio Martusciello, bluntly stated that the labeling requirement was a mistake and that many European nations are having second thoughts about the wisdom of the Commission’s decision.
In the United States, congressional lawmakers have been equally vociferous in voicing their disagreement with the European Commission. A bipartisan letter was sent to US Trade Representative Michael Froman, urging him to use new anti-BDS legislation against the EU’s proposed discriminatory practices. The lawmakers noted that recent anti-BDS legislation, which Obama signed into law in June, was passed precisely to combat this type of discrimination.
Despite the strong dissent from both sides of the Atlantic, the hostile Obama administration predictably adopted the European Commission’s reasoning claiming that the labeling requirements were merely a technical guideline that provided European consumers with information regarding the origins of the product.
The administration’s assessment is factually inaccurate and disingenuous. As noted by international law expert Professor Eugene Kontorovich in an excellent op-ed piece, the European Commission’s labeling requirement is highly discriminatory, prejudicial and fundamentally flawed. There are hundreds of conflict zones and border disputes worldwide and yet the EU sees fit to set its focus solely on Israel. No other nation is subject to such arbitrary scrutiny. Kontorovich believes that the labeling requirement would not be able to withstand legal challenge as it violates “basic tenets of the World Trade Organization.”
The absurdity of the EU’s decision comes to sharper focus when examining it within the context of the Golan Heights. The territory was liberated by Israel in 1967 and annexed in 1981 and Israeli law applies there. Those who reside in the Golan may choose to accept or reject Israeli citizenship. Currently, the Golan’s population consists of approximately 20,000 Jews and some 18,000 Druze but no Palestinians. Some Druze have readily accepted Israeli citizenship while others have not, though they still enjoy many of the benefits of citizenship such as national healthcare and social services.
Prior to the Six-Day War, the Golan was a barren, rocky plateau brimming with Syrian cannon and other armaments. Syrian gunners would periodically train those guns on Israeli tractors plowing their fields below and on Israeli fishing boats in the Sea of Galilee. Today, the Golan is a region that is both tranquil and productive where Jews and Druze live harmoniously side-by-side. Thanks to Israeli innovation, the Golan has been transformed into a major wine-producing area where some of the world’s finest wines are produced while just across the border in Syria, chaos, depravity and misery reign.
Syria is currently in the midst of a vicious civil war. It has devolved into a pseudo nation, carved up into cantons controlled by various warlords and militias. ISIS controls much of Eastern Syria, the Kurds and the Nusra Front (an al-Qaida offshoot) control parts of northern and central Syria. Other rebel groups control chunks of the south while the Assad-Nasrallah-Khamenei axis maintains control over the remaining 20% of the country. For all intents and purposes, Syria no longer exists. Even if Israel was willing to cede the Golan, there is no viable partner on the other side. And yet the EU still considers the territory to be “occupied” and subject to special labeling requirements.
Clearly, politics and perhaps a touch of anti-Semitism and not consumer protection led European commission members to their dreadful and discriminatory decision. Whether Israel will challenge the legality of the Commission’s decision, as advocated by Professor Kontorovich and other legal scholars, remains to be seen. Strong internal dissent from Germany, Hungary and likely other EU nations as well as bipartisan opposition from the United States Congress may yet render that option unnecessary.
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