Wednesday

21st Oct 2020

Shops should label Israeli settler goods, EU jurist says

  • Products made on occupied land could mislead EU consumers if they were labelled as made in Israel (Photo: Steve Rhodes)

European shops ought to label Israeli settler exports so that consumers can boycott them for "ethical" reasons the same way they did South African ones under apartheid, a senior EU jurist has said.

"EU law requires for a product originating in a territory occupied by Israel since 1967, the indication ... that the product comes from an Israeli settlement if that is the case," Gerard Hogan, an advocate general at the EU court in Luxembourg said on Thursday (13 June).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • The US moved its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last year (Photo: Wikipedia)

A "reasonable consumer" might opt not to buy Israeli wine or cosmetics produced on Palestinian land due to "ethical considerations", he added.

"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, for example, it is not a democracy or because it pursues particular political or social policies which that consumer happens to find objectionable or even repugnant," Hogan said.

EU judges are currently weighing a complaint brought by the Organisation Juive Europeenne, an NGO in France, and Psagot, an Israeli winery which has vineyards on occupied land.

They urged French courts to block the French government from issuing a notice that retailers ought to put the term "Israeli settlement" or equivalent on such products.

The French courts then asked the EU judges for their guidance on the subject.

The EU verdict might not follow Hogan's non-binding opinion, but judges do follow advocates general in most cases.

France issued its retail label code in November 2016, about one year after the EU foreign service had published guidelines urging all member states to do so.

There is no data on how other member states followed up on the EU guidelines and even less information to what extent retailers enforced the labelling rules.

The EU imports about €30 billion a year of Israeli goods.

The European Commission does not know how much of it comes from settlers, but its best guess is "a marginal percentage".

The World Bank, in 2012, estimated that settler exports to the EU are worth €230m a year.

"If the final judgement of the [EU] court follows the [advocate general's] opinion, it will reinforce the obligation to label settlement goods correctly and could boost enforcement across the EU, which has been minimal," Martin Konecny, the director of European Middle East Project, an NGO in Brussels, said.

Psagot, the Israeli winery, had claimed the French retail code was "discriminatory".

But Konecny said the company had itself "taken over lots of privately owned Palestinian land for its vineyards over the years, while benefitting from Israeli state subsidies".

The EU court case comes amid ongoing settlement expansion under Israel's right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

It also comes amid concern US president Donald Trump is planning to endorse Israel's annexation of West Bank settlements the same way he backed its annexation of Jerusalem by moving the American embassy there from Tel Aviv.

The situation threatens to make the EU and UN-backed solution of a normal Palestinian state alongside Israel one day impossible by dividing Palestine into an archipelago of mini-territories separated by Israeli towns, roads, and fortifications.

Meanwhile, the 2.7m Palestinians who live in the West Bank "face systematic legal discrimination" under Israel's "quasi-permanent occupation" of the territory, EU ambassadors based in Jerusalem and Ramallah said in an internal report last July.

Settlers were engaging in "intensive cultivation" of Palestinian farm land, while Palestinian farmers were being starved of water by Israeli occupation forces, they also said.

"The West Bank legal regime is a form of institutionalised racial segregation. A simpler description would be apartheid," Alon Liel, Israel's former ambassador to South Africa from 1992 to 1994, recently told EUobserver, echoing the EU court's Hogan.

EU rejects public call to ban Israeli settler products

A public petition from people around Europe demanded the European Commission prohibit trade with Israeli settlements. But the Brussels-executive rejected the request, telling reporters it has no legal basis to act on the matter.

Former diplomats urge EU to draw red line on Israel

The EU ought to tell the US their partnership on Israel is over if Trump endorses Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories, former top diplomats from all over Europe have said.

No EU cost for Israeli 'apartheid' in West Bank

Palestinians face "systematic legal discrimination" by Israel, EU diplomats said in a confidential report seen by EUobserver, but Israel is unlikely to pay a "real cost".

Opinion

Israeli labelling ruling lets consumers make choice

Beyond the Israel-specific dimension of this decision, the EU court places ethics back at the heart of European consumer choices and reminds us that our daily, mundane purchases may have considerable and unforeseen geopolitical implications, particularly as regards occupied territories.

Opinion

Revival of hope for EU-Israel ties after elections?

Detaching the Netanyahu-era alliance with Hungary's Viktor Orban and other illiberal regimes in Europe will serve both EU unity and Israel's integrity. Scraping the deal with Poland to rewrite the history of Second World War falls under the same category.

News in Brief

  1. Ireland first EU state to re-impose full lockdown
  2. EU countries agree farm policy reform
  3. EU corona-bonds attracted huge demand
  4. France seeks Putin's help on counter-terrorism
  5. Cyber attacks 'targeted health system during pandemic'
  6. Greece asks EU countries to halt military exports to Turkey
  7. Covid-19: Spain considers curfews in hardest-hit areas
  8. Study: Air pollution costs Europeans €1,276 per year

Column

A 'geopolitical' EU Commission. Great idea - but when?

Safeguarding Europe's position starts with recognising the unpleasant reality that Europe's power is waning. Behind the facade of European cooperation, national self-interest still predominates and that has never been any different.

Rightwing MEPs bend to Saudi will after Khashoggi death

Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed two years ago on 2 October. Since then, mainly centre-right, conservative and far-right MEPs have voted down any moves to restrict, limit or ban the sales of weapons to the Saudi regime.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. 'Big majority' of citizens want EU funds linked to rule of law
  2. EU declares war on Malta and Cyprus passport sales
  3. EU Commission's Libya stance undercut by internal report
  4. Backroom deal will make CAP reform a catastrophic failure
  5. EU money used by neo-Nazi to promote Holocaust denial
  6. Over 80% of Europe's habitats in poor or bad condition
  7. EU's Brexit move could end deadlock in talks
  8. EU's migrants more at risk from coronavirus

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us