Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday compared the European Union’s decision to label goods from Israeli settlements to the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses. Israel also said it was suspending a series of meetings with the EU in protest.
“The labelling of products of the Jewish state by the European union brings back dark memories. Europe should be ashamed of itself,” Netanyahu said as he wrapped up a visit to Washington.
“It took an immoral decision…this will not advance peace, it will certainly not advance truth and justice. It’s wrong,” he said in an English-language video clip posted on his Facebook page.
He drew the same comparison in September when he said that Israelis “remember history and we remember what happened when the products of Jews were labelled in Europe”.
After the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they imposed an economic boycott against the country’s Jews, issuing orders and posting signs telling the public not to buy from them.
The EU move is a set of guidelines for labelling products from Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories and annexed east Jerusalem as well as the Golan Heights, all occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Drawn up over three years by the European Commission, the guidelines mean Israeli producers must explicitly label farm goods and cosmetics that come from settlements when they are sold in the European Union.
Israel has reacted furiously to the move, calling it “discriminatory” and summoning the EU envoy.
“There has been a condemnation from almost every minister,” FRANCE 24 correspondent Irris Makler reported from Jerusalem.
“The justice minister [Ayelet Shaked of the pro-settler Jewish Home party] has condemned it outright and called it modern day anti-Semitism and said she will examine what Israel can do in return.
“What we’re also hearing from people who work in the West Bank – from settlers and other Israelis there – is that the people who will suffer the most will actually be the Palestinian workers whose jobs will then go.”
Israel’s deputy foreign minister said the country was sending a “very strong message” of displeasure by suspending a series of ongoing meetings with the EU in protest over the decision.
“We say you can’t be involved in what is going on in the Middle East while you are taking such an extreme step of labeling products… boycotting us,” Tzipi Hotovely told Channel 2 TV.
The suspended meetings are a series of regular dialogues on political issues in the Middle East, human rights and international organisations, ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon said, adding that the suspension would likely be temporary.
PLO: EU move welcome but not enough
“EU labelling of settlement products is a step in the right direction but insufficient,” the PLO’s negotiations affairs department said on Twitter. “Products of a war crime must be banned not just labelled.”
PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat also welcomed the decision, calling it a “significant move toward a total boycott of Israeli settlements, which are built illegally on occupied Palestinian lands”.
“We believe that more actions are necessary to hold Israel accountable for the crimes it continues to commit against the land and people of Palestine,” he said in a statement.
The EU’s position is that the lands Israel has occupied since 1967 are not part of the internationally recognised borders of Israel.
As such, goods from there cannot be labelled “Made in Israel” and should be labelled as coming from settlements, which the EU considers illegal under international law.
“It’s an indication of origin, not a warning label,” the EU ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, told Reuters.
Britain, Belgium and Denmark already affix labels to Israeli goods, differentiating between those from Israel proper and those, particularly fruits and vegetables, that come from the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank. Now, all 28 EU member states would have to apply the same labelling.
While there is no EU official wording, goods must carry the word “settlement” on the tag when sold in European shops. If an Israeli farmer refuses, a retail outlet can attach the label themselves, as the European Commission has sufficient information about where goods come from.
Israel’s foreign ministry said the move singled Israel out and was potentially harmful to long-standing peace efforts.
“We regret that the EU has chosen, for political reasons, to take such an exceptional and discriminatory step, inspired by the boycott movement,” it said in a statement.
“Product labelling will strengthen the radical elements advocating a boycott against Israel and denying Israel’s right to exist, contradicting positions the EU publicly opposes.”
Trade from settlements accounts for only a small portion of commerce between the European Union and Israel, but carries important symbolic weight.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS, AP)