In Israel, Hungary’s FM says his country opposes settlement labels

In Israel, Hungary’s FM says his country opposes settlement labels

In first public defiance of Brussels’ guidelines, Péter Szijjártó calls EU initiative ‘irrational,’ harmful to peace efforts

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó speaking at the Israel Council of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, November 16, 2015 (Andres Lacko)
Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó speaking at the Israel Council of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, November 16, 2015 (Andres Lacko)

Hungary opposes the introduction of special labels for products made in Israeli settlements, the country’s foreign minister said Monday, calling it “irrational” and arguing that it hurts efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Last week, the European Union, of which Hungary is a member, published guidelines on how member states should label certain products made by Israelis beyond the country’s internationally recognized borders.

“We do not support that decision,” declared Péter Szijjártó, also Hungary’s trade minister, who is currently visiting Israel. “It is an inefficient instrument. It is irrational and does not contribute to a solution [to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict], but causes damage.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Szijjártó for his comments, during a meeting at the Knesset. The EU labeling policy has drawn widespread condemnation from across the Israeli political spectrum.
“Thanks for the strong statement you made against labeling; it’s the right position and the moral position, and we appreciate it,” the prime minister said.

Hungary thus appears to be the first country publicly defying Brussels’ guidelines for the labeling of West Bank products. Last week, the Bundestag faction of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party rejected the EU’s initiative as “wrong,” arguing that it would likely be misused by Israel’s enemies and does not promote Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation [link in German]. But the government in Berlin has so far not announced whether it will implement or disregard the union’s directives.

Labeling is mandatory for fresh food products and cosmetics and voluntary for prepackaged foodstuff and most industrial goods. While the labeling guidelines are theoretically binding for the entire union, “enforcement remains the primary responsibility of Member States,” the EU stated last week.

That means that it’s up to the discretion of each country to implement the guidelines. “If they don’t do it, most likely not much will happen,” a senior European official said last week. “But 16 member states did ask for clarification so I assume this will be [at least] partly implemented.”

Speaking an at event in Jerusalem hosted by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Szijjártó also suggested a direct link between the wave of of migration from the Middle East to Europe and Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, in which 129 people were killed.

“The migrant crisis is not independent of recent events in Paris,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands of young men have come to Europe. Some have been involved in armed conflict. Many are arriving from countries that have actually been in conflict with Europe.”

He criticized the EU’s approach to the crisis, calling on Brussels to deal with the root cause rather than assisting migrants to relocate. “The ability to protect our borders is our number one priority. If we cannot protect our borders, we cannot protect our people.”

Szijjártó defended his country’s policies in the current European refugee crisis against international criticism. “The allegation that Hungary is against the European value of freedom of movement is hypocritical. We are only trying to prevent people from crossing our borders illegally,” he said. Hungary has been attacked as xenophobic and fascist merely for speaking frankly about the issue of migration, he added.

Calling the current migration wave a “refugee crisis” is misleading, the foreign minister continued. “Refugees are people fleeing for their lives. However, those who move from Greece to Macedonia or Croatia to Hungary are motivated by economics.”

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