US condemns ‘anti-Israel bias’ in EU court verdict on settlement labeling

Israel thanks State Department for its ‘moral clarity’; EU spokesperson tells TOI: Requirement is ‘not discriminatory and it is not against Israel’

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

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

The US State Department on Wednesday condemned the European Court of Justice’s ruling a day earlier that determined that settlement products need to be labeled as such.

Joining several US Congressmen who criticized the controversial decision, which has handed down by the European Union’s top court in Luxembourg, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said the administration was “deeply concerned” by the ruling, which states that foodstuff made in Israeli settlements cannot be marketed as products of Israel.

“The circumstances surrounding the labeling requirement in the specific facts presented to the Court are suggestive of anti-Israel bias,” she said in a statement. This requirement will only “encourage, facilitate, and promote boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel,” she added.

“The United States unequivocally opposes any effort to engage in BDS, or to otherwise economically pressure, isolate, or otherwise delegitimize Israel. The path toward resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict is through direct negotiations. America stands with Israel against efforts to economically pressure, isolate, or delegitimize it,” her statement read.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Israel Katz at a Likud election campaign tour in Jerusalem, September 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday evening welcomed the statement, saying it demonstrated “moral clarity.”

Foreign Minister Israel Katz, too, hailed Ortagus’s statement, thanking “our ally the United States for its steadfast and ongoing support.”

“The court’s decision is wrong, promotes boycotts against Israel and gives a tailwind to the haters of Israel,” Katz continued, repeating his vow to work with his colleagues in the EU to prevent its implementation.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely also commended the US position, saying the EU decision “discriminates against Israel and encourages boycotts.”

Yaakov Berg, the CEO of the West Bank winery that launched the appeal that led to Tuesday’s court decision hailed the State Department’s “extremely important” statement.

“It provides tailwind to our efforts to combat this campaign of boycotting and hypocrisy that the EU court’s decision encourages,” he said. “The support the winery received in the US, and the efforts we invested, contributed to this position. We’ll continue this just
and moral struggle.”

On Tuesday, several US Congressmen had denounced the verdict as well. “It’s disgraceful for the European Court of Justice to endorse the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement,” said Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. “Yet again, the international community reveals its obsession with singling out and punishing Israel.”

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.

The Israeli government lambasted the ruling as well.

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

Katz had on Tuesday condemned the court ruling 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.”

The ruling 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.”

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

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.

“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.”

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.

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.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely gives a press conference on November 3, 2015, in the Lipski plastic factory at the Barkan Industrial Park near the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank, on the European Union decision to label goods made in Jewish settlements. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

“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.

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.

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.”

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

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.”

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