Falling Short of Boycott, EU Moves to Label Products Made in Illegal Israeli Settlements

Palestinian customs officials dump Ahava products seized from West Bank shops during a 2009 boycott (Photo: Getty Images)

Falling Short of Boycott, EU Moves to Label Products Made in Illegal Israeli Settlements

Growing Palestinian rights movement credited with pushing world powers to acknowledge ongoing Israeli violations

Though falling substantially short of the boycott campaigners have been calling for, the European Union on Wednesday adopted new measures (pdf) to label products made in Israeli settlements.

"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," said the EU Commission.

Instead, products made in territories illegally occupied by Israel will now include the term "Israeli settlement," while Palestinian products could be labelled "product from the West Bank (Palestinian product)," "product from Gaza," or "product from Palestine." The labeling will be mandatory for fruit and vegetables, wine, honey, olive oil, eggs, poultry, organic products, and cosmetics, and voluntary for industrial products and processed foods.

Though the distinction stirred the ire of the Israeli government, which has threatened to boycott a series of upcoming meetings with the EU, campaigners for Palestinian rights say the action is "insufficient" given the gross violation of international law.

"If the EU is serious in implementing its own policy of non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the occupied Arab territories of 1967, why doesn't it implement a ban on the import of products of Israeli companies that illegally operate in the occupied territories?" asked Dr. Rafeef Ziadah, a member of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), which lead the international BDS movement.

"Merely labeling, rather than banning, illegal settlement goods indicates political hypocrisy par excellence," Ziadah added in a recent press statement about the pending policy.

Similarly, Electronic Intifada co-founder Ali Abunimah quipped online in response to Wednesday's news and the resulting outcry, "Price of actually opposing Israeli policies is same as meekly, gingerly criticizing it and fake-supporting Palestinians. So go all the way."

A number of companies, including SodaStream and Ahava cosmetics, have already been targeted by protests due to their locations in occupied Palestinian territory.

Despite the tepid response from campaigners, the growing BDS movement is being credited with pushing world powers to acknowledge the ongoing violations by the Israeli state.

According to BNC, the new labeling measures adopted by all 28 EU member states reflect "mounting public pressure in Europe on policymakers to end the profound European complicity in Israel's violations international law and Palestinian human rights."

Commenting on the new guidelines ahead of their publication, U.S. State Department Deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that Israel should not be "surprised" by the move.

"Israel continues to expand settlement activity. It should not come as a surprise that some in the international community seek to limit commercial ties to the settlements," he said. "This underscores the urgent need for Israel to change its policies with regard to settlements," Toner added, though he refused to say whether the U.S. would adopt similar measures--only that they were "under consideration."

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