EU court advised to require labeling of settler products

A European advocate general cited the example of apartheid South Africa in explaining why consumers have a right to know that a product was produced in an Israeli settlement.

al-monitor A Jewish settler holds his son at a vineyard belonging to the Jewish settlement of Mitzpe Kramim, east of Ramallah, on the Israeli-occupied West Bank, March 25, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

Jun 20, 2019

Despite the European Union's consistent acknowledgment that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal, it is taking the Europeans a long time to translate this principled stance into policy. One of the simplest and most obvious ways the EU can act on the issue is to make sure that Europeans know whether the products they purchase are made in occupied territory.

In 2011, the EU issued a directive requiring the labeling of goods to inform consumers about the source of products. This was followed in 2015 by an “interpretive notice” announcing the requirement that goods produced in Israeli settlements have identifiable labeling clearly stating that they were made in a settlement.

Only France followed through on the directive, issuing a regulation in 2016 requiring such labeling. The French temporarily suspended the reg in July 2018 after settlers took legal action.

Psagot Winery — which advertises itself as a “Jerusalem Mountains Winery” but is located in the Psagot settlement — and the Organization Juive Européenne filed a lawsuit in France claiming that the requirement is discriminatory. France turned the matter over to the European Court of Justice, which is expected to hear the case in September. An advisory opinion published June 13 not only supports the need for labeling, but also makes a direct connection to the case of apartheid South Africa.

“Just as many European consumers objected to the purchase of South African goods in the pre-1994 apartheid era, present-day consumers may object on similar grounds to the purchase of goods from a particular country [because] it pursues policies which that consumer happens to find objectionable or even repugnant,” Gerard Hogan, an Irish judge and advocate general for the European Court of Justice, wrote in Article 51 of the advisory opinion.

An EU source explained to Al-Monitor that Hogan’s legal advice is non-binding on the Court of Justice. “It is the role of the advocates general to propose to the court, in complete independence, a legal solution to the cases for which they are responsible,” the source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Judgment will be given at a later date. The EU court is due to decide next September.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki welcomed the ruling, noting in a statement sent to Al-Monitor that Hogan's opinion is “consistent” with the basic tenants of international law, which considers the settlements illegal.

“We are confident that the European court will accept the opinion of its advocate general and will issue clear guidance to all European countries to label all products coming out of these illegal settlements so as to differentiate them and to ensure that they are not imported at the account of the Palestinian rights and the theft of Palestinian resources and lands nor by undermining their inalienable rights.”

Hogan reiterated previous international rulings that the settlements are illegal, noting in Article 77 the need for specifically labeling products with their point of origin: “I consider therefore that the addition of the terms ‘Israeli settlements’ to the geographical identification of the origin of the products is the only way to provide — as requested by Article 7(1) and (2) of Regulation No 1169/2011 — correct and objective but also accurate, clear and easily understandable information for the consumer.”

Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad, Fatah’s international media spokesman, told the Jeddah-based Arab News that special attention must be paid to the consumer. “Consumers of these products deserve to know that buying them supports and encourages the occupation policy that brings no benefit for anyone,” said Abu Zayyad.

Also speaking to Arab News, Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem welcomed the court’s position in rejecting Israeli violation of international law and called on the international community “not to engage with products made in the settlements which are illegal according to international law.”

When Al-Monitor contacted Omer Korman, vice president of Psagot Winery, for comment, he hung up the phone.

The Lawfare Project, an Israeli advocacy group that fights anti-Semitism and opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, called on the European Court of Justice not to adopt Hogan's recommendation, arguing, “It would open a Pandora’s box of lawsuits.”

Lawfare Project director Brooke Goldstein told the pro-settlement Israeli daily Israel Hayom, “The European court has a historic opportunity to put an end to this double standard, which is morality biased against Israel. This type of label is a blatant act of discrimination. There are hundreds of disputed territories around the world, but only Israeli businesses and European companies that work with them will find themselves targeted by these unnecessary political requirements,” she said.

In 2012, the World Bank estimated that settler exports to the EU were worth 230 million euros ($258 million) a year. The EU is Israel's largest trade partner.

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