Trump State Dep’t, Unlike its Predecessor, Links EU Labeling Directive to Anti-Israel Boycotts

By Patrick Goodenough | November 14, 2019 | 4:19am EST
The Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg (Photo: CJEU)
The Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg (Photo: CJEU)

( – The Trump administration on Wednesday threw its support behind Israel after the European Union’s highest court mandated the labeling of goods produced in Israeli settlements in disputed areas.

The reaction was somewhat different to the Obama administration’s stance on the controversial policy four years ago. Unlike its predecessor, the administration made clear that is sees the labeling requirement as a tool to advance the anti-Israel boycott, divestments, and sanctions (BDS) campaign.

In its ruling this week, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) stated that, “Foodstuffs originating in the territories occupied by the State of Israel must bear the indication of their territory of origin, accompanied, where those foodstuffs come from an Israeli settlement within that territory, by the indication of that provenance.”

Israel’s foreign ministry said in reaction the ruling “emboldens radical anti-Israel groups that advance and call for boycotts against Israel and deny its right to exist.”

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the U.S. was “deeply concerned” by the decision.

“The circumstances surrounding the labeling requirement in the specific facts presented to the Court are suggestive of anti-Israel bias,” she said in a statement

“This requirement serves only to encourage, facilitate, and promote boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel,” Ortagus said. “The United States unequivocally opposes any effort to engage in BDS, or to otherwise economically pressure, isolate, or otherwise delegitimize Israel.”

Supporters of the Israeli position see the labeling requirement as self-evidently designed to facilitate boycotts of produce made in the areas claimed by the Palestinians for a future state – even though the E.U. denies that is the case.

In contrast to Wednesday’s statement, when the Obama State Department was faced with questions about the policy in 2016, it aligned itself with the E.U.’s argument that it does not constitute a boycott.

In January of that year, E.U. foreign ministers endorsed a resolution reinforcing an earlier decision directing that produce from disputed territories destined for European markets no longer be labeled, “Made in Israel.”

They also said that, from that point forward, all agreements between the E.U. and Israel must “unequivocally and explicitly” state that they do not apply to “territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”

“This does not constitute a boycott of Israel, which the E.U. strongly opposes,” the text added.

Asked during a State Department briefing at the time whether the Obama administration supported the E.U. stance, spokesman John Kirby did not answer directly.

But he noted the E.U.’s assertion that its directives did not amount to a boycott, and indicated that the administration concurred.

“We do not view the labeling of products as being from the settlements a boycott of Israel,” Kirby said.

Asked whether he agreed with the E.U. that its decisions do “not indicate a boycott, or isn’t a boycott, or won’t lead to one,” he replied, “That’s right. And our position on boycotts has not changed.”

‘Double standard’

Based in Luxembourg, the CJEU’s role is to ensure that E.U. law is interpreted and applied in the same way in all E.U. member-states.

Israel’s foreign ministry called the E.U. policy discriminatory, noting that the 28-nation bloc does not have similar requirements for produce from other parts of the world where territorial disputes remain unresolved.

“The ruling’s entire objective is to single out and apply a double standard against Israel,” it said. “There are over 200 ongoing territorial disputes across the world, yet the [CJEU] has not rendered a single ruling related to the labeling of products originating from these territories.”

Elaborating on that point, former Israeli diplomat and foreign ministry legal advisor Alan Baker wrote that the E.U. policy “blatantly ignores the numerous situations in the world where states administering territories have transferred hundreds and thousands of their own citizens into the territories they are administering, such as Turkey in Northern Cyprus, Morocco in the occupied territory of Western Sahara, Russia in occupied Ukrainian territory, and the like.”

“This is indicative of an acute double standard in E.U. policies, raising pertinent questions regarding the real motivation behind such policy,” said Baker, director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center.

Palestine Liberation Organization secretary-general Saeb Erekat welcomed the court ruling, and called for an outright ban on the sale of such products.

“Our demand is not only for the correct labeling reflecting the certificate of origin of products coming from illegal colonial-settlements, but for the banning of those products from international markets,” he said.

The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. While no Israelis live in Gaza – their government in 2005 forcibly removed 9,000 inhabitants of 17 settlements there – hundreds of thousands of Israelis live in towns and villages across the West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem.

The future of those settlements is a key “final status” issue that will have to be resolved in any final peace agreement between the two sides. Israeli governments across the political spectrum have maintained that even in the event of Palestinian statehood, land swaps would have to be negotiated to ensure that at least some blocs of major communities remain in place.

The E.U. policies also apply to the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 war and formally annexed in 1981. President Trump in a proclamation last March recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.

“The path toward resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict is through direct negotiations,” Ortagus said in her statement Wednesday. “America stands with Israel against efforts to economically pressure, isolate, or delegitimize it.”


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