EU updates oldest hatred with new settlement goods labeling scheme

On November 12, the European Court of Justice ruled that all products manufactured by Jews on Israeli settlements require a unique consumer warning label. Not only is such a warning label uniquely imposed on Israel, but a separate label for products from the same geographic areas but produced by non-Jews has now been created as well. The court’s decision serves as a reminder that while anti-Semitic violence like that experienced by the Jews of Pittsburgh last year is easy to identify, Jew-hatred and anti-Jewish discrimination come in many forms including warning labels, and must be condemned at every turn.  

In response to the EU’s latest move in its longstanding campaign against Israeli policies, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that the Trump administration would soften its stance on Israeli settlements by repudiating a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.”

The new EU consumer label mandate is expansive as it goes beyond Jewish businesses from Judea and Samaria, to include East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, even though both were annexed by Israel. In effect, the EU court has put the lie to the claim that its discrimination against Israel is limited to areas of the country that may (or may not) be part of a future peace agreement with the Palestinians. Now, the EU labels will extend to areas of the country that are legally — even though not accepted internationally — as legitimately part of Israel. 

The EU Court of Justice has a long history of discrimination against Israel and its disputed territories. Indeed, this trade dispute between the EU and Israel has been going on for more than two decades, specifically about export from the settlements to member countries in the EU.  Back in the 1990s, the EU demanded that Israeli products would be differentiated one from another based on where they were produced, with goods from Jewish settlements required to pay extra customs fees. This latest decision by the EU court ups the ante because now instead of the discrimination against Israeli products being visible only to customs officials it is expanded to include all European consumers. 

The result of the new ruling is twofold: 1. Israeli products manufactured in Judea, Samaria, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem will all be labeled as imported from “occupied territories” and 2. Goods produced by Palestinians in those same locations will be labeled as “Made in Palestine”. Not only will goods coming from Jewish settlements cost more due to the tariff, but there may also be a psychological deterrence for consumers who might not want to buy “controversial” products. 

Aside from Israel, the EU is consistent in its labeling protocol with products from disputed territories. No matter these other circumstances, the EU labels products coming from disputed territories as from the de-facto ruling country. And in prior rulings the EU has declared its purpose is not to prejudice the international status of disputed territories. Rather, the point is to enable international trade.

For example, even though the EU doesn’t officially recognize that Taiwan exists independently of the People’s Republic of China, Taiwanese products are labeled “Made in Taiwan”. There are disputed territories in the West Sahara portion of Morocco. Again, the EU had decided to allow export from West Sahara labeled as Moroccan goods, since Morocco is the de facto state that administers the trading arrangements in West Sahara. The same is true for Portugal and its consumer goods from disputed territories. Having these kinds of separate rulings for similar cases is normally not allowed under international trade laws, and yet the EU Court of Justice has done just that in the case of Israel’s disputed territories. Even though the settlements are de facto controlled by Israel, the EU court decided to label the products as “made in the occupied territories.”

International trade laws were meant to help with fair free trade, not to solve territorial conflicts. As well, international trade laws are supposed to protect against discrimination of participating countries. Indeed, out of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) five basic rules, the fourth deals with discrimination and states that no country should receive different treatment than other countries.

The EU’s purpose in applying such discriminatory policy on goods coming from the Jewish settlements was probably to support the Palestinians, however, it is likely to have the opposite effect. The factories in the settlements employ Palestinian workers, and the implications of the EU policy may very well hurt production of those products. 

As Eugene Kontorovich, director of the Center for International Law in the Middle East at George Mason University, tweeted: “Products around the world are made in many situations that raise ‘ethical’ and legal questions, from Chinese prison labor factories to Moroccan drilling Sahrawi oil. Only such concern that requires labeling in E.U. is Jews living in neighborhoods where they are not ‘supposed’ to be.”

A bipartisan group of US senators including Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Bob Menendez (D-NY) have criticized the decision. “The regulation in question is problematic for a number of reasons, including because it targets specific businesses based on the ethnicity and national origin of their owners,” Sen. Menendez wrote to the EU. In addition, Menendez threatened that the ruling has the potential to negatively impact US-EU trading relations since 29 states have passed anti-boycott laws that harshly penalize companies engaging boycotts or economic pressure campaigns against Israel.  

If the EU is uninterested in weighing in with tariffs and labels on consumer products from any of the dozens of other territorial disputes around the globe, then it should obviously stop singling out the one Jewish state on the planet. Meanwhile anti-Semitism warriors who want to do some good, can buy Psagot wines and raise a glass to winning the war against the world’s longest hatred. 

Written by: Abby W. Schachter, a writer and editor, and Anat Talmy, a software engineer, both live in Pittsburgh.


About the Author
Anat Talmy, a software engineer, is a citizen of the United States and Israel.
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