WASHINGTON -- The European Union released a highly anticipated set of guidelines Wednesday instructing member states how to differentiate between products produced within Israel’s 1967 borders and products made in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Under pre-existing laws, European Union member states are required to label the origin of some products, including produce, wine, honey, olive oil, eggs and poultry. Labeling for other industrial products is voluntary. The new guidelines direct member countries to avoid labeling products as “made in Israel” if they are produced in the West Bank, Golan Heights or East Jerusalem.
“The EU legislation on indication of origin is very clear: 'Made in Israel' used for the products coming from Israeli settlements would mislead the consumer and therefore is inconsistent with existing EU legislation,” an EU fact sheet explains.
The guidelines direct member states to further differentiate between products that are made in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and goods that are produced in the territories, but not in an Israeli settlement.
The Israeli government, which has long sought to block the EU labeling guidelines, slammed the new policy as “cynical and baseless.”
“We regret that the EU has chosen, for political reasons, to take such an exceptional and discriminatory step, inspired by the boycott movement, particularly at this time, when Israel is confronting a wave of terrorism targeting any and all of its citizens,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The ministry added that the move could “have implications for Israel-EU relations.”
U.S. lawmakers have also tried to thwart European policies that target settlement businesses. In May, Congress slipped an amendment into a broader trade bill instructing the U.S. Trade Representative to pressure the EU against boycotting people or businesses “in Israel or Israeli-controlled territories.” Though the trade bill was signed into law, the State Department said it would not abide by the amendment because it contradicts long-standing U.S. opposition to Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
This week, a group of lawmakers made a last-ditch attempt to express their dissatisfaction with the European policy. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) circulated a letter around the Senate to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, describing the labeling guidelines as “a de-facto boycott of Israel.”
“We believe strongly that these efforts are unwarranted, dangerous, and damaging to the prospects of a negotiated solution to this conflict,” the letter read.
While the amendments to the trade bill garnered nearly unanimous bipartisan support in the House and Senate votes, the letter to Mogherini, which was sent Monday, had only 36 signatories.
Progressive pro-Israel organizations such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now have both done extensive outreach to lawmakers in an effort to explain the difference between the EU policy and the broader boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which both groups oppose.
"This distinction between Israel and the settlements is nothing more than a recognition of reality: Israel has never annexed the West Bank, and it is contrary to reality and to law to insist that the EU or any country accept that products made in West Bank settlements are labeled, inaccurately, 'made in Israel,'" Lara Friedman, director of government relations at APN, wrote in a letter to several Senate offices.
Dylan Williams, J Street's vice president of government affairs, pointed to a 1995 statement from the Department of the Treasury, which says that goods produced in the West Bank or Gaza should be labeled as such and contain no mention of the word "Israel."
The Europeans dismiss the claim that their labeling policy is linked to the BDS movement, which targets all Israeli goods. Labeling products that are produced in the Palestinian territories, explained the EU, does not bar consumers from buying them -- it simply allows consumers to make educated decisions in their purchases.
When the guidelines were still being finalized earlier this year, an EU official told The Huffington Post that the labels could actually prevent European consumers from deciding to boycott Israeli goods, out of concern that they are unwittingly supporting businesses operating in the settlements.
Despite the political blowback from the Israeli government and U.S. lawmakers, the economic effect of the labeling policy will be insignificant. The EU estimates that products originating in Israeli settlements account for less than 1 percent of the 30 billion euros in EU-Israel trade each year.
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