Shaming Israel: EU Labels Goods from Occupied Territories

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 11/15/2015 02:28:00 PM
From the occupied territories--not Israel--to dinner tables in Europe.
Are product labels entirely innocuous things simply meant to disclose factual information about the product? Make no mistake that there is a political economy behind product labeling. In the EU, foodstuffs containing genetically modified organisms must be labeled as such. Today, though, we have concerns not about the contents of products but where they're manufactured. Recently, the EU made a move to label products made in Israel's occupied territories as such:
The European Union published new guidelines on Wednesday for labeling products made in Israeli settlements, a move Brussels said was technical but Israel branded "discriminatory" and damaging to peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Drawn up over three years by the European Commission, the guidelines mean Israeli producers must explicitly label farm goods and other products that come from settlements built on land occupied by Israel if they are sold in the European Union.
As you would expect, the EU and Israel are proffering different explanations of what's going on with the labeling. The EU says it's merely stating where the goods come from out of "technical" interest, whereas the Israeli authorities say it's a "political" move:
Israeli officials, briefed that the decision was coming, were quick to denounce it. The foreign ministry said it was a political move designed to pressure Israel over its settlements policy. It summoned the EU ambassador to Israel and said it would suspend diplomatic dialogue in the coming weeks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Washington on an official visit, called the decision "hypocritical and a double standard", saying the EU was not taking similar steps in hundreds of territorial conflicts elsewhere in the world. "The European Union should be ashamed of itself," he said. "We do not accept the fact that Europe is labeling the side being attacked by terrorist acts."
To be sure, the EU has never recognized Israel's occupation of these lands:
The EU's position is that the lands Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war - including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights - are not part of the internationally recognized borders of Israel. As such, goods from there cannot be labeled "Made in Israel" and should be labeled as coming from settlements, which the EU considers illegal under international law.
Ironically, while I do not support Israel's complaints about the unfairness of it all, I am in total agreement that it's a "political" act. Like with the aforementioned GMOs, labeling is not just a "technical" exercise since the act of doing so often has political-economic consequences. Europeans in particular can be finicky about such things, and I think that Israeli leaders recognize this above the symbolism of the entire exercise.