EU moves forward with plans to sanction products made in Israeli settlements

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Momentum has been building in Europe for a ban on settlement products, and Der Spiegel reports EU officials are still on a “confrontation course” with Israel:

Israel held parliamentary elections on Jan. 22 and is now in the process of forming a new coalition government to be led by Netanyahu. Although the coalition will include the liberal parties in the political center, politicians representing settlers will also have a strong voice in the new government. This configuration is diminishing the hopes of politicians in Berlin, Brussels and Washington who were eager to revive the comatose Middle East peace process.

Confrontation Course

This has prompted the European Union officials to move forward with planning that will put them on a confrontation course with Israel. The main issue is settlement policies. At a meeting in December, the foreign ministers of the EU’s 27 member states reiterated “their commitment to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing European Union legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products.” In other words, they intend to prohibit the sale of goods produced in the occupied territories — or at least as long as they are falsely labelled.

Sanctions against products from the settlements would be a major blow to the Israeli economy. Each year, the settlers export some €220 million worth of goods to Europe, whereas the comparable figure for the Palestinians is a mere €15 million. Israel has accordingly reacted very negatively to the plans in Brussels. In a response to the plans, the Israeli Embassy in Berlin argued that there are territorial disputes all over the world. “If this kind of labelling regulation is not universal, and seeks to single out one place exclusively, namely Israel,” it said, “then this measure will be inherently iniquitous and discriminatory by nature, and it should be treated as such.”

Such charges have not been intimidating to officials in Brussels. Employees of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU diplomatic service ushered in by the Treaty of Lisbon, recently sifted through the entire corpus of EU legislation in order to determine which directives and regulations could be cited in efforts to ban settler-made products. The list of applicable legislation, which SPIEGEL has obtained, shows that the lion’s share of potentially banned products involves foodstuffs.

Here are some examples of what EU investigators have found:

For example, European Council Regulation 1234/2007 sets rules “on specific provisions for certain agricultural products,” including wine. Among the product information that must be declared is origin. But, in practice, the law is constantly violated.

Council Regulation 479/2008 stipulates who is responsible for monitoring that wine is properly labelled. Article 62 says: “The competent authorities of the Member States shall take measures to ensure that a product referred to in Article 59(1)” — including wine and related grapevine products — “not labelled in conformity with this Chapter is not placed on, or is withdrawn from, the market.”

The red wine from the Golan Heights sold in the Galeria Kaufhof is imported to Germany by Champagner und Wein Distributionsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG, a company based in the northern German state of in Schleswig-Holstein. But the state’s ministry responsible for agriculture doesn’t see any reason to take action. A ministry spokeswoman says that since Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor has already provided a document confirming the origin of the wine, there is no deception in the matter.

The EU member states also rely on the information supplied by Israeli exporters when it comes to fruit and vegetables. It is difficult to verify precisely where an orange or olive has been harvested. Right now, one of the main things EU officials are looking into are dates that are grown by Israeli settlers in the occupied Jordan Valley.

Products from Israeli cosmetics firm Ahava are also the subject of dispute. The company produces creams and shower gels that contain minerals from the Dead Sea. The products’ packaging includes the details, “Dead Sea Laboratories. Israel.” In truth, the products are manufactured at the edge of the Dead Sea in the occupied West Bank.

Read the entire report here.

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8 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    February 11, 2013, 12:09 pm

    This is a positive step unless it reduces to a (mere) labelling requirement. It is not enough; all trade should be suspended until all settlers are out, all settlements dismantled, and the wall removed. (“All settlers” includes those of the Golan, where much wine is made/grapes grown.) But a travel of 1000 miles begins with a single step.

  2. HarryLaw
    February 11, 2013, 12:52 pm

    I made complaints to Haringey Trading Standards department London regarding this wine from the Golan Heights and was told that the wine labelling does not breach any of our National or European legislation, while conceding that the UK government would not accept that the Golan Heights is part of Israel here is my reply sent several weeks ago ……….. Dear Ms Karen Tillett,
    Thank you for your letter dated 11th December 2012, regarding wine imported from Golan Heights Winery, you referred my complaint to the Food Standards Agency who in turn advised that the labelling is consistent with the requirements of European Union Regulations 1234/2007 Article 118y together with EC Regulation No 607/2009 article 55, however my complaint referred to EC Regulation 491/2009 article 118y, this may be an error on your part. I do not agree with any of your reasoning rejecting my complaint, particularly the Food Standards Agency’s opinion set out in paragraph 2 where they say the labelling in question is consistent with the requirements of the European Union Regulations, here is Regulation No 607/2009….
    Article 55 [Indication of provenance] at [1] shall be indicted as follows… [i]
    the words ‘wine of (…)’, ‘produced in (…)’, or ‘product of (…)’, or expressed in equivalent terms, supplemented by the name of the Member State or third country where the grapes are harvested and turned into wine in that territory;

    I have contacted Mr John Boodle [Technical Inspector wine standards] at the Food Standards Agency in Kingsway, London he told me that the “provenance”- country of origin-must always be stated on the label.”Wine of…” or one of the permitted alternatives, as set out in Reg 607/2009.
    The Regulation imposes a duty to put country of origin on the label, because the word “shall” is used in the legislation,
    The indication of “country of origin” as Israel on the label is clearly false and as such does not comply with the regulations above, the Food Standards Agency seem to be saying that because a proportion of the grapes come from the upper Galilee area of Israel proper then the labelling is not wholly incorrect, this is at variance to the country of origin rules as set out by the World Trade Organisation, they deem the country of origin to be the country of last substantial change, this is consistent with the European Union rules of origin and our own Trades Description Act 1968 where it states at section 36 “Country of origin” as stated below:
    (1) “For the purposes of this Act goods shall be deemed to have been manufactured or produced in the country in which they last underwent a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change”. I have examined all the metrics involved in such a change and find without doubt that the last substantial change was made in Syria.

    Your assertion that consumers would not likely be deceived by the false country of origin is unbelievable all the more so since both labels on front and back of the product indicate Israel as its origin. May I refer to the Food Standards Agency guidance covering “avoiding misleading origin labelling in part 2 Paragraph 13 put out by them in October 2008, which states; “Where the label carries other information that may imply origin, the actual country of origin declaration should be sufficiently prominent, precise and compelling to correct any potentially misleading impression”. The Food Standards Agency’s reference to misleading in this case is where doubt is cast on whether something is false, in this case there is no doubt as to the falsity of the country of origin and therefore an offence as described in EU Regulation No 607/2009 Article 55. May I also draw your attention to the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs [DEFRA] advice to traders in relation to, in this case Occupied Palestinian Territories put out in 2009,remember this advice to traders is to enable them to avoid breaching consumer legislation, it is not an optional extra, the same advice would apply to the occupied Golan Heights, incidentally no Government Department should accept on a label an indication that the Golan Heights is in Israel, to do so would be to recognise an unlawful situation, which would be a fundamental breach of International Law. Here is the advice from DEFRA.
    5. Separately, the Government considers that traders would be misleading consumers, and would therefore almost be certainly committing an offence, if they were to declare produce from the OPT (including from the West Bank) as ‘Produce of Israel’. This would apply irrespective of whether the produce was from a Palestinian producer or from an Israeli settlement in the OPT. This is because the area does not fall within the internationally recognised borders of the state of Israel.

    I have just conducted a small survey of my friends and acquaintances and find that everyone asked, not surprisingly thought that Israel was the “country of origin” of the wine, the European court of justice [ECJ] has ruled that even if a small minority 10 or 15 per cent had been mislead then that percentage would be enough to breach consumer legislation, they said that it was for the National courts to determine in the light of all the relevant factors whether a description is misleading, it is implicit in the ECJ decision that if the National Law of a member state considered a proportion of consumers of 10%-15% to be sufficiently “significant” the ECJ would not regard that as being too low. see Gut Springenheide GmbH and Tusky v Oberkreisdirektor des Kreises Steinfurt-Amt fur Lebensmitteluberwachung [1998] ECR 1-04657 case C-210/96. And Estee Lauder Cosmetics GmbH and Co. OHG v Lancaster Group GmbH [2000] ECR 1-117
    Note that the ECJ decisions referred to misleading descriptions, it goes without saying that a description should not be false under any circumstances.

    May I ask you to revisit my complaint and ask Hatov importers to change the labels on their wine products to comply with the regulations?
    Thank you

    Harry Law.

    • pabelmont
      February 11, 2013, 4:52 pm

      I admire Harry Law’s lawyering.

      But: the EU seems (in this case, and perhaps in any case where the product is made and/or grown and/or packaged in a varierty of places) to be at a loss as to the requirement of labelling. So be it.

      As to the wall, the settlers, the settlements, and perhaps other occupation practices which fail to comply with I/L and agreements (correcting of which was a large focus of the purpose of BDS anyhow); and

      Since most countries have “undertaken” to “ensure respect” for the Fourth Geneva Convention “in all circumstances”;

      NOW THEREFORE it makes sense that the countries — in order to comply with their own undertakings as above — demand an end to whichever of Israel’s illegal occupation practices they find unacceptable (e.g., wall, settlements, settlers), give Israel a time table for ending them, set forth a list (and time table) for sanctions to be imposed if Israel fail to end them, and begin the new and glorious era.

      Cessation of all trade with Israel would be appropriate as a final sanction, but a bit harsh as the first sanction. Refusal to trade in any product any part of which was grown or produced in OPT (of Golan) would be a reasonable first and immeduiate sanction.

      It should not be aboiut labelling. That’s too tame.

    • Inanna
      February 11, 2013, 5:12 pm

      Thanks Harry, that’s great. Please let us know what happens. Might even be worth a front page article in my view.

  3. Annie Robbins
    February 11, 2013, 1:04 pm

    yep, i could sure see this coming a mile away

    hmm, this ‘statement’ sounds definitive.

    That statement also said that the EU would work to ensure that all agreements between Israel and the EU “must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, namely the Golan Heights, the West Bank including east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

    i’d like to read the full statement. i remember last year there was some talk of ‘concrete’ measures. sounds kinda boycotty-ish to me. sounds bigger than 423 million.

    the 423 million was in reference to israel cutting off PA funds (scroll up the link for main story, blockquote is from jpost) this is what lieberman was yelping about on israel radio in december, about the ‘2nd holocaust’.

  4. HarryLaw
    February 11, 2013, 1:30 pm

    pabelmont, Oh ye of little faith, you say “This is a positive step unless it reduces to a (mere) labelling requirement. It is not enough”; This labelling issue could be huge, now that Palestine has been officially recognized as a state, surely all produce from Palestinian farmers should now have “Made or produced in Palestine” labels, will the Settlers label their property “Made in Palestine” no they will not [for ideological reasons] and since West Bank/Gaza is not a state, it is hard to see that kind of labelling being legal enough for European Union legislation purposes, it is possible only those states which recognize Palestine at this time will be in a position, initially to accept this labelling?? we shall see.

  5. HarryLaw
    February 12, 2013, 5:21 am

    pabelmont, Oh ye of little faith, you say “This is a positive step unless it reduces to a (mere) labelling requirement. It is not enough”; This labelling issue could be huge, now that Palestine has been officially recognized as a state, surely all produce from Palestinian farmers should now have “Made or produced in Palestine” labels, will the Settlers label their property “Made in Palestine” no they will not [for ideological reasons] and since West Bank/Gaza is not a state, it is hard to see that kind of labelling being legal enough for European Union legislation purposes, it is possible only those states which recognize Palestine at this time will be in a position, initially to accept this labelling?? we shall see.

  6. Nevada Ned
    February 13, 2013, 2:12 am

    These official EU statements may or not may not cause serious problems for the Israeli occupation.
    To me, it sounds like an opportunity to organize a European mass-based boycott movement, with special attention paid to goods originating in the occupied West Bank.
    The model that may be applicable is the 1960’s boycott of table grapes, in support of the United Farm Workers in California. Activists would hand leaflets to shoppers entering supermarkets, asking them not to buy table grapes. Support for the farmworkers was a perfectly respectable form of activism, “consumers with a conscience.”
    It’s a favorable environment because in much of Europe, Israel already has a bad reputation.

    The significance of the article in Der Spiegel (IMHO) is this: although the high-level EU deliberations can’t replace a grassroots activist movement, the high-level EU deliberations also mean that Israel can’t bring down the force of law on the boycott activists.

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