Europe is failing to implement EU settlement labeling directive, study shows

Survey by pro-Palestinian group finds 9 out of 10 wines from Golan and West Bank in European stores don’t comply with 2015 policy declared legally binding by EU court Tuesday

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

The Gush Etzion winery in the West Bank, July 18, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
The Gush Etzion winery in the West Bank, July 18, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

An overwhelming majority of Israeli settlement goods sold in European stores are currently not being labeled as such, according to a study by a Brussels-based think tank.

Only 10 percent of the 3,089 wines from the West Bank and the Golan Heights located across the continent by the European Middle East Project (EuMEP), a nonprofit critical of the settlements, were labeled according to the instructions issued by the European Commission in November 2015.

Earlier this week, the union’s top court in Luxembourg ruled that these guidelines are legally binding. It had taken up the issue after Psagot, a Jewish-owned winery in the West Bank, appealed to a French court against what it argued was a discriminatory policy singling out Israel while ignoring other territorial disputes around the world.

The Israeli government had urged Psagot to withdraw its appeal, positing that EU member states were not widely enforcing Brussels’s labeling policy, and warning that the European Court of Justice was likely to affirm that the hitherto largely ignored practice was mandatory, thus causing unnecessary problems to Israeli exporters.

View of the fields at the Psagot vineyard settlement in the West Bank near the city of Ramallah. December 13, 2012. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The European Middle East Project, a small nonprofit sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, located and analyzed 3,089 wines from localities the EU considers settlements — 22 percent in the West Bank and 78 percent in the Golan Heights — currently on sale on the websites of 189 vendors in 20 EU member states.

“Among EU member states, most settlement wines are on sale in the UK, Belgium, France, Germany,” the still-unpublished research paper found. It did not find any settlement wines in eight EU states, mostly in the continent’s southeast.

“Only 10% of the settlement wines on sale in the EU have correct or partially correct origin indication in line with EU rules, i.e. “Product of West Bank/Golan Heights (Israeli settlement),” according to the paper, which was written by EuMEP director Martin Konecny.

According to the 2015 guidelines that were upheld this week by the court, wines made in the West Bank or the Golan must include not only the name of the geographical place of origin but also that it was produced in an “Israeli settlement.”

Only seven percent of all analyzed labels met that criteria.

A bottle of wine sold in a Belgian supermarket from a Golan winery labeled ‘correctly’ according to EU rules (Screen grab)

Three percent of the wines carried labels saying “Israeli settlements” or “occupied territory” but did not specify the West Bank or the Golan Heights, or actually stated Israel as the country of origin.

All the other wines — 2,792 out of 3,089 — indicated their origin was either Israel, only the given territory (Golan or West Bank Heights), or a particular wine region (for example Galilee — whose grapes are used by the Golan Heights Winery, for example — or Judea), or did not provide any origin at all.

According to the study, the country with the most “incorrectly” labeled settlement wines is the UK; of 590 wines, not a single one indicated that it was from a settlement.

In France, nearly 300 settlement wines were labeled “incorrectly,” while 132 indicated their origin correctly or partly correctly, the study found.

In this February 11, 2014 photo, Israeli workers inspect barrels in a winery in the West Bank settlement of Psagot. (AP/Dan Balilty)

A spokesperson for Psagot said the company was interested in the research but has not seen it.

“We believe that every business has the right and obligation to fight for its existence and employees, for the right to produce and export. Especially when it comes to hypocritical and immoral actions that encourage boycotts against it,” he told The Times of Israel.

“We are proud that we took action against the European decision to discriminate [against] our products and we’ll continue fighting for justice. In these cases you don’t wait until a racist law is enforced to challenge it — you challenge it to prevent its enforcement.”

He also added that the winery was “encouraged” by the US State Department’s stance a day earlier, “which unequivocally stands for these values and supports our cause.”

US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus on Wednesday had issued a statement condemning the court ruling. “The circumstances surrounding the labeling requirement in the specific facts presented to the Court are suggestive of anti-Israel bias,” her statement read. This requirement will only “encourage, facilitate, and promote boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel,” she added.

Vered Saadon toasting with an Israeli tour group at her Tura Winery in the West Bank settlement of Rahelim, June 21, 2017. (Andrew Tobin/JTA)

In an email interview, Konecny — the author of the study and an outspoken critic of Israel’s settlement enterprise — told The Times of Israel that he expects European governments to step up their enforcement of settlement labeling. “No member state can ignore European Court of Justice verdicts,” he said. “So I do expect governments to step up enforcement now, as well as the European Commission.”

Asked if he thinks Psagot shot itself in the foot by taking the issue to court, he replied: “Absolutely. But if you don’t try, you can’t fail. I have some sympathy for their determination, however for an unjust cause.”

In addition to the State Department, this week’s court decision was denounced by several US congressmen and the Israeli government, as well as numerous pro-Israel groups and activists across the globe. Many argued that the labeling requirement would boost the BDS movement.

European Middle East Project director Martin Konecny (courtesy)

“My impression is that most BDS folks consider labeling a sell-out,” said Konecny. “That’s because it allows for the EU to continue importing settlement products and thus sustain the occupation, although it considers those settlements illegal and wants an end to the occupation. They have a point there.”

According to its website, his group “is not part of the BDS movement, but respects its legitimacy as a non-violent and rights-based means of challenging the occupation.”

The EU, meanwhile, took great pains this week to stress that it was not banning settlement goods and opposes boycotts and sanctions against Israel.

“Products originating from the settlements outside the internationally recognized borders, i.e., before 1967, have not been blocked and will not be blocked from entry into the EU,” a spokesperson for the union’s Ramat Gan embassy told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

Konecny, who hails originally from the Czech Republic, disputed arguments often made by officials in Jerusalem and pro-Israel activists about the EU singling out the Israel while ignoring other territorial conflicts.

“If you look at the facts, it doesn’t hold water. The EU actually banned imports from Crimea — a much stronger measure than labeling,” he said. “For the rest, EU legislation applies equally across the board.”

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