E.U. Decision On Labels For Settlement Goods Met With Scorn From Israel

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Agricultural products and cosmetics produced in Israeli settlements must be labelled as such rather than just as coming from Israel, the European Commission decided on Wednesday.

The move was slammed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry as “exceptional and discriminatory.”

Labelling for other products from the settlements will be voluntary.

The European Union has long criticized Israel‘s policy in the occupied Palestinian Territories, saying that settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem violates international law.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry responded with a statement saying, “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.”

Israel has seen a renewed wave of violence in recent months sparked by perceived changes of the status quo at a holy site in Jerusalem, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

The ministry added that the decision was “puzzling and even irritating,” arguing that the EU chose to ignore other territorial disputes.

“There is certainly a very strong element of double standards applied to the Jewish State,” Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said.

He pointed to Morocco‘s occupation of the Western Sahara and Turkey‘s occupation of northern Cyprus as examples of other territorial disputes.

The commission, the EU‘s executive, insisted that the guidelines issued on Wednesday are not political, but clarify existing consumer-protection rules to ensure they are interpreted and implemented uniformly.

“This is a technical measure,” one source said on condition of anonymity. “This is neither boycott, nor leading to boycott. We also believe that it will actually not negatively affect … the trade volume with Israel.”

Sarah Saadoun of Human Rights Watch praised the new rules in a statement that noted the illegality of settlements under international law.

“Labelling products produced in Israeli settlements gives businesses and consumers the information they need to avoid supporting industries that contribute to violations of human rights,” she said.

Mahmoud Nawajaa, general director of the Palestinian boycott movement BDS, also welcomed the decision, while adding that “a small number of Israeli products is hardly a proportionate response.”

Israel lobbied fiercely against any labelling of settlement products, with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz saying on Tuesday that it smacks of discrimination and anti-Semitism.

Israel‘s ambassador to the EU also warned on Tuesday that the introduction of labelling would carry consequences, without giving further details. David Walzer said his country felt “singled out for quasi-sanctions, using economic tools for punishment.”

Trade between the EU and the occupied territories reached around 154 million euros (165 million dollars) last year, according to commission figures.