13 Israeli public figures call on EU to ban the import of settlement goods
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13 Israeli public figures call on EU to ban the import of settlement goods

In open letter, notables including former Knesset speaker, former ambassadors say ‘occupation is morally corrosive, strategically shortsighted, and thoroughly detrimental to peace’

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

Thirteen Israeli notables on Friday issued an open letter saying they welcomed the European Court of Justice’s ruling earlier this week that settlement products need to be labeled as such, but said the move is insufficient and the European Union must ban the import of settlement goods altogether.

“Israeli settlements are the leading cause of human rights violations against Palestinians, and settlement expansion is destroying the possibility of a two-state solution. By banning goods that originate in Israeli settlements, Europe would help support the differentiation between Israel per se and settlements in the occupied territories,” reads the letter published in the Guardian.

“We believe that the occupation is morally corrosive, strategically shortsighted, and thoroughly detrimental to peace. The international community has taken insufficient action in addressing this reality. Europe continues to support the occupation financially by allowing trade with Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”

The letter was signed by former speaker of Knesset and head of the Jewish Agency Avraham Burg; former lawmaker Mossi Raz; former ambassador to France Prof. Eli Barnavi; former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe Ilan Baruch; former attorney general Prof. Michael Ben-Yair; former ambassador to South Africa and Turkey Alon Liel; former Israeli ambassador to the Czech Republic Erella Hadar; Israel Prize winners Prof David Harel, Prof Yehoshua Kolodny, Alex Levac, Prof David Shulman and Prof Zeev Sternhell; EMET Prize Laureate Miki Kratsman.

Avraham Burg in 2008. (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90)

The European Court of Justice 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.”

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.”

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.

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

The Israeli government lambasted the ruling.

“Europe the other day decided to act against Israel, and to put labels on products that are made here,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “They don’t join exactly the sanctions against Iran, they join sanctions against Israel. Unbelievable!”

The US State Department on Wednesday condemned the ruling in a statement later welcomed by Netanyahu, who said it demonstrated “moral clarity.”

Barrels at an Israeli winery in the West Bank settlement of Psagot, February 11, 2014. (AP/ Dan Balilty/File)

A spokesperson for the EU embassy in Ramat Gan told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that the union’s labeling requirement “is not discriminatory and it is not against Israel.” The union has a privileged trading relationship with Israel, and products originating in Israel proper benefit from preferential tariff treatment, she said. “The EU is the first trading partner for Israel with total trade in 2018 amounting to 34.4 billion euros,” she said.

Products originating from the settlements outside Israel’s internationally recognized borders “have not been blocked and will not be blocked from entry into the EU,” she stressed.

“The EU does not support any form of boycott or sanctions against Israel,” the spokesperson added, stressing that the union rejects any attempt to isolate Israel, including BDS.

Palestinian officials on 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.

“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.

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