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European Union Issues Guidelines for Labeling Settlement Products

The long-awaited action was condemned as discriminatory by critics because the EU does not similarly label products from other occupied territories around the world

Yair Rosenberg
November 11, 2015
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
The flag of the European Union flies over the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany, July 6, 2015. Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
The flag of the European Union flies over the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany, July 6, 2015. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

In a long-expected move, the European Union issued guidelines on Wednesday for labeling products manufactured in Israeli-occupied territories. The rules, in the works for over a year, are to be applied at the member states’ discretion, and are mandatory for some products but not others. The explanatory EU notice states: “The European Union, in line with international law, does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967, namely the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”

While the EU has repeatedly and emphatically disavowed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel and distinguished its labeling from it, many critics see this latest action as a slippery slope towards full-scale boycotts of the Jewish state. As such, it was condemned across the spectrum by the Israeli government, U.S. lawmakers, and American Jewish groups like the American Jewish Committee.

In particular, some found the EU’s move to label products from Israeli-occupied territories, but not products produced in territories occupied by non-Jewish states, to be discriminatory. As former U.S. Treasury official Jonathan Schanzer put it, “If you do this to Israeli products, you had better do it to Northern Cyprus, Western Sahara, etc. Otherwise it smacks of discrimination.”

Critics also pounced on the guidelines’ application to the Golan Heights, a territory captured from Syria with no connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and from which Israel clearly cannot withdraw while a civil war rages in Syria between the regime, rebels, and jihadist groups including ISIS. The EU guidelines repeatedly mention the Golan, without explaining what Europe expects Israel to do in order to get the labeling lifted.

“The new rules will even apply to products from the Golan Heights, a territory that has no connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and where with the disintegration of Syria and its descent into unspeakable barbarism, there isn’t even a theoretical partner for peace,” the American Jewish Committee wrote in a statement. “This move is thus bound to strike mainstream Israelis as removed from the harsh reality on the ground, weakening the EU’s standing as a credible player in the region.”

Finally, critics pointed out that the tens of thousands of Palestinian workers employed by Israeli businesses in the West Bank are likely to be the hardest hit by the EU’s legislation. For while settlement products account for less than 1 percent of Israeli exports, making them a trivial part of the Israeli economy, they disproportionately support the Palestinian one.

Many of these points were also made in a bipartisan letter to the EU signed by 36 U.S. senators, and in a recent op-ed by Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.