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Liberal US Jewish groups urge Biden to reverse Trump settlement label policy

Letter to homeland security chief says directive to label US exports from West Bank settlements as ‘made in Israel’ runs counter to new White House policy in support of two states

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Israeli winemaker Yaakov Berg holds a bottle of his red blend named after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Psagot Winery in the Sha'ar Binyamin industrial park near the Psagot settlement in the West Bank, north of Jerusalem on November 18, 2020. (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)
Israeli winemaker Yaakov Berg holds a bottle of his red blend named after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Psagot Winery in the Sha'ar Binyamin industrial park near the Psagot settlement in the West Bank, north of Jerusalem on November 18, 2020. (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

A group of six prominent progressive Jewish groups in the US called on the Biden administration to revoke a last-minute directive from the previous White House that requires all US exports from West Bank settlements to be labeled as “made in Israel.”

“We believe the [policy] is inconsistent with current US policy on the status of the occupied territories, requires inaccurate and misleading labeling on the origin of products, and is harmful to essential interests of Israelis and Palestinians alike,” the groups said in a letter Tuesday to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, whose office is charged with implementing the policy.

The groups that signed on to the letter were Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, J Street, New Israel Fund, Partners for Progressive Israel and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

Until former secretary of state Mike Pompeo announced the new policy weeks after ex-president Donald Trump’s election loss, US policy required products made in the West Bank to be labeled as such. Pompeo said the updated rules were “consistent with our reality-based foreign policy approach, requiring all producers within areas where Israel exercises authority — most notably Area C under the Oslo Accords –… to mark goods as  ’Israel,’ ’Product of Israel,’ or ‘Made in Israel’ when exporting to the United States.”

The announcement appeared to indicate that the policy would also cover goods made in Palestinian villages within Area C, where Israel exercises both civilian and security control. Roughly 150,000 Palestinians are believed to live in Area C, which includes all Israeli settlements and covers about 60 percent of the West Bank’s land area.

“We will no longer accept ’West Bank/Gaza’ or similar markings, in recognition that Gaza and the West Bank are politically and administratively separate and should be treated accordingly,” Pompeo’s announcement read.

It had been US policy since 1967 to differentiate between Israel and the territories it captured in the Six Day War. A 1995 Treasury Department guidance requiring goods from the West Bank or Gaza Strip to be labeled as such still remains in force. The directive was republished in 2016 by the Obama administration, which warned that labeling goods as “made in Israel” could lead to fines.

The new US doctrine appears to fall in line with existing Israeli policy, which similarly does not differentiate between goods produced on either side of the Green Line.

The groups’ appeal came exactly one month before the directive is slated to come into effect. Pompeo made the announcement on November 23, but agreed to a three-month transition period before it could be applied.

Blasting the move, the liberal Jewish groups noted that it came “amidst a flurry of activity by the previous administration to endorse and legitimize Israeli settlements following Donald Trump’s election defeat.”

The West Bank Jewish settlement of Ma’ale Efrayim in the Jordan Valley, June 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

“By inaccurately and misleadingly treating settlement and other products from Area C of the West Bank as if they were made in Israel, the General Notice attempts to reverse decades of US policy that makes a firm distinction between Israel and the West Bank,” they wrote.

The groups noted that the directive “runs counter to the Biden administration’s policy of opposing settlement activity and unilateral annexation of territory as harmful to the prospects for the peaceful, just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Indeed, the State Department has spoken out against Israeli unilateral moves in the West Bank on a number of occasions in the past month.

Neither the State Department nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to requests for comment on the letter.

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