EU envoy: Comparing labeling to Holocaust cheapens memory

Those accusing Europe of hypocrisy should explain how settlement expansion jives with commitment to two states, Faaborg-Andersen says

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Lars Faaborg-Andersen, EU ambassador to Israel, at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, November 18, 2015 (Flash90)
Lars Faaborg-Andersen, EU ambassador to Israel, at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, November 18, 2015 (Flash90)

Comparing the labeling of settlement goods with anti-Jewish measures of the Nazis falsifies history and cheapens the memory of the Holocaust, the European Union’s envoy to Israel said Wednesday.

“I have been shocked to hear claims of anti-Semitism and historic comparisons or analogies to the persecution of Jews in Germany in the 1930s and 40s,” Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen said in Jerusalem. “In my view, this is a distortion of history and a belittlement of the crimes of the Nazis and of the memory of their victims.”

Faaborg-Andersen made the remark at the Jerusalem Post’s Diplomatic Conference, hours after Prime Minister Netanyahu from the same stage condemned the EU’s initiative, announced last Wednesday, to label certain goods produced beyond the Green Line.

In his remarks, Netanyahu had implicitly compared labeling to the Holocaust in the ambassador’s presence. The union’s plan to label settlement goods was “morally abhorrent because on the soil of Europe, within living memory, Jewish products were labeled,” Netanyahu argued. He urged the EU not implement its “heinous” scheme “which has such horrible historic overtones.”

A few hours later, Faaborg-Andersen defended the union’s labeling initiative as a technical step and urged Israeli leaders to see it in perspective.

“The bond between Europe and Israel is unbreakable and indispensable and for the most part, our relations are consensual and thriving. But it is no secret that we do not agree on all points,” he said. “Yet even where we do not agree it is important to keep a sense of proportion and not to confuse fact with fiction. Talks of a European boycott do not stand up to a reality check.”

The EU is opposed to boycotts of Israel products, even if they originate in settlements, the ambassador said. But marking such goods as “Made in Israel” is incorrect even in the United States, he added. “It should also be incorrect from Israel’s point of view: After all, no Israeli government has ever claimed that the West Bank is part of Israel.”

Faaborg-Andersen also sought to rebut some of the much-cited Israeli arguments against the labeling initiative, such as claim that Israel is singled despite there being 200 other territorial conflicts that do not warrant a special labeling regime.

“Those comparisons are simply not relevant, because the situations are different,” he said, without elaborating. “But anyone claiming that the EU is singling out Israel should take a look at the EU’s list of restrictive measures and sanctions: It is 140 pages long. And Israel is not on it.”

The correct indication of a product’s origin “is not a sanction,” but merely the implementation of existing EU law applying to products from anywhere in the world, he declared.

The introduction of labeling should not be seen as punishment or even as a tool to exert pressure on Israel, Faaborg-Andersen continued. “We are not preempting the outcome of negotiations on Israel’s future borders. This is up to the parties.” The EU will accept any arrangement Israelis and Palestinians agree on, he said. “However, until such an agreement is reached, [the EU] will continue to differentiate between Israel within its internationally recognized borders and the settlements.”

People accusing the EU of hypocrisy fail to credibly explain how Netanyahu’s stated commitment to a two-state solution jives with continued settlement building, the ambassador said. “True, settlements are certainly not the only problem, but they are definitely a significant and crucial problem,” he added.

“We should focus more on what keeps us together, rather than on what pulls us apart,” he said. “We should not be shy about dealing with our disagreements, but we should also not let them blind us to all the areas where we actually agree.”

Earlier during his speech, Faaborg-Andersen had called the bond between Israel and Europe “unbreakable and indispensable.” Israelis and Europeans have much in common, he explained: history, culture, values , personal ties, family relations and a joint maritime border.

Faaborg-Andersen also reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself against the many threats it faces. He condemned terrorism, “anywhere it occurs, without any ifs and buts. Whether in Paris, in Jerusalem or in Otniel. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can justify terrorism.”

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