Foreign Ministry: Ruling is political and discriminatory

Israel rejects ‘unacceptable’ EU court decision on settlement labeling

FM Katz vows to prevent implementation of ‘gravely flawed policy,’ argues it contradicts Brussels’ position that peace must be a result of bilateral negotiations, not legal rulings

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

Israel Katz attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)
Israel Katz attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)

Israel on Tuesday condemned as politically motivated and discriminatory a decision by the European Court of Justice that determined that Israeli goods made in the settlements must be labeled as such.

The ruling, which the European Union’s top court had issued earlier during that day, serves as “a tool in the political campaign against Israel,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The ruling’s entire objective is to single out and apply a double standard against Israel.”

There are more than 200 territorial disputes across the world, but the European court has never ruled on any of them, the ministry said. “Today’s ruling is both political and discriminating against Israel,” it charged.

Tuesday’s ruling, handed down by 15 judges in the court’s Grand Chamber in Luxembourg, “diminishes the chances of reaching peace,” the ministry stated.

“It plays into the hands of the Palestinian Authority, which continues to refuse to engage in direct negotiations with Israel, and emboldens radical anti-Israel groups that advance and call for boycotts against Israel and deny its right to exist.”

According to the Luxembourg-based court, “Foodstuffs originating in the territories occupied by the State of Israel must bear the indication of their territory of origin, accompanied, where those foodstuffs come from an Israeli settlement within that territory, by the indication of that provenance,” the court — the EU’s highest legal instance — said in a press release.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz denounced the decision as “unacceptable both morally and in principle,” and vowed to work with his colleagues in the EU “to prevent the implementation of this gravely flawed policy, which contradicts Europe’s position that a resolution to the conflict must be advanced through direct and unconditional negotiations, and not through legal rulings.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely joined the chorus of condemnation, calling the judges’ ruling political and hypocritical. Settlements are an integral part of Israel, and it does not make a difference whether a product was manufactured in Tel Aviv or in a West Bank outpost, she said.

“It is regrettable that especially in these hours, during which Israelis are threatened by rocket fire, the European court provides the haters of Israel with a tailwind,” she said in a statement, referring to the more than 150 rockets Gaza terrorists have been firing at Israeli cities in response to an Israeli operation that killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander early Tuesday morning.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely meets with Emanuele Giaufret, the EU’s envoy to Israel, on January 15, 2018. (Elram Mendel/Foreign Ministry)

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich suggested that the judges in Luxembourg are supporting the terrorists responsible for Tuesday’s rocket barrage.

“On the same day that Israel’s enemies remind of us their aspiration to destroy us, and of the results of escaping from terrorism and of relinquishing control over territory, the European court is positioning itself by their side,” he said in a statement.

Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem also chimed in, taking to Twitter to suggest the court “label and condemn the hundreds of rockets fired into Israeli territory today.”

As of Tuesday evening, the Prime Minister’s Office did not issue a response to the court’s ruling.

In contrast, in November 2015, when the European Commission first introduced its controversial labeling policy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it “brings back dark memories” and that “Europe should be ashamed of itself” for taking an “immoral decision.”

Palestinian officials, on the other hand, welcomed the court’s ruling, and urged European countries to implement “what is a legal and political obligation,” senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Cairo, Egypt, in 2011. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

“Our demand is not only for the correct labeling reflecting the certificate of origin of products coming from illegal colonial-settlements, but for the banning of those products from international markets,” he added.

PA Foreign Minster Riad al-Malki hailed the verdict as “an important first step for the European Union, as this important ruling is an affirmation of the EU’s obligation to respect and ensure respect of international law.”

Peace Now, a dovish Israeli organization critical of the settlement enterprise, defended the European ruling against its critics.

“The settlements lie beyond the sovereign borders of Israel. The State of Israel itself does not consider the settlements as within its sovereign borders. It is absurd to expect the EU to play along with the far-right’s idea that the facts are otherwise when Israel itself does not,” the group said.

“By insisting on no differentiation between Israel and the settlements, settlement apologists recklessly attempted to link Israel’s reputation to that of the settlements before the European public.”

In a statement sent to The Times of Israel, a spokeswoman of the EU embassy in Ramat Gan said that “clear and non-misleading indication of origin is an essential part of the EU’s consumer policy.”

The court’s decision confirms the European Commission’s “interpretative notice” of 2015, which first introduced the need to label settlement goods as such, the spokeswoman added. “The EU’s position regarding this issue did not change,” she said.

“The EU has a longstanding and well-known position that it will not recognize any changes to pre-1967 Israeli borders other than those agreed by the parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” she said. “The EU considers settlements in occupied territories illegal under international law.”

At the same time, the EU rejects “any form of boycott or sanctions against Israel” including the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, she emphasized.

The court took on the case after Psagot Winery — which is located in a settlement by the same name just north of Jerusalem — challenged a 2016 ruling by a French court that said goods produced in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights must be labeled as originating in an “Israeli settlement.”

The pro-settler Yesha Council denounced the court decision, saying it mainly hurts the Arab residents of the West Bank who make a living working for Israeli companies.

“This is hypocritical decision, which stems from the lowest kind of anti-Semitism and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” the group said in a statement. It also called on the Israeli government to “act strongly” in order to annul the ruling.

Workers at a cherry factory in a West Bank settlement, May 25, 2009. ( Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A host of pro-Israel organizations attacked the ruling as well.

For instance, Elnet, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering ties between Israel and Europe, said Tuesday’s verdict “threatens to severely erode the European Union’s role as a credible partner in the eyes of the Israeli public.”

Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor and the head of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based watchdog group critical of pro-Palestinian nonprofits, said the EU’s product labeling is meant as a “gateway drug” toward BDS and other forms of demonization for anti-Israel groups.

“The European Court is approving putting a new kind of ‘Yellow Star’ on Jewish-made products,” said Eugene Kontorovich, a professor of international law and the director of international law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum.

“This is not about consumer protection, it is about adopting a unique legal standard for the Jewish state. The EU labels for these Jewish products are also unique among all product labeling in that they are not geographic — they are not about ‘where’ something was made but by ‘whom,'” he said.

In their decision Tuesday, the 15 judges wrote that it was necessary to label Israeli settlement goods as such “to prevent consumers from being misled as to the fact that the State of Israel is present in the territories concerned as an occupying power and not as a sovereign entity.”

The court further stated that Israeli settlements “are characterized by the fact that they give concrete expression to a policy of population transfer conducted by that state outside its territory, in violation of the rules of general international humanitarian law.”

A label that merely stated “Made in the West Bank” was insufficient, the court said, because customers would not have a way of knowing that the product they are considering purchasing originated in a locality established “in breach of the rules of international humanitarian law.”

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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