The Germans are angry with the Greeks for retiring at age 50 and counting on Germans to keep working until they are 65 so as to have enough cash to lend to Greece. The French are angry with the Germans for demanding such harsh and humiliating terms from the Greeks in return for a few billion more euros. The Greeks are angry with the Germans for once again in effect telling them how to levy taxes and to organize their economy. Italy is angry with every other EU country for refusing to relieve it of the flood of refugees fleeing Africa. Britain is angry with the entire EU for denying it the right to control its borders and snatching from it large portions of its sovereignty. There’s more, lots more. But on one thing they all, or almost all, agree: products made in “occupied Palestinian land” must be labeled as such, rather than as “made in Israel.” Nothing to do with any anti-Israel attitude, of course. And horrors at the thought that the rule might have anything to do with anti-Semitism. Merely a clarification of existing rules, which are along the lines of those already issued by Denmark, Belgium and Britain—yes, Britain, home of the Balfour Declaration, but that was long before the Muslim population soared and academics began their drumbeat of criticism of Israel.
“It clarifies certain elements linked to the interpretation and effective implementation of existing EU legislation,” European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told reporters in Brussels. “This is a technical issue, not a political stance.”
Why such clarification is not needed in other cases in which territories are disputed remains unexplained. Nor did the EU feel that timing the rule’s announcement when Israel is being subjected to a wave of terrorist knifing, and its government absorbed with that problem, is any way insensitive. And the EU has no problem welcoming goods made by workers far more oppressed than are Palestinians in Israeli- and, one must assume, Palestinian-owned factories.
The reach, current and potential, of the new rule is not entirely clear. What is clear is that the rule makes goods manufactured on the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem ineligible for the more relaxed tariff treatment long accorded Israel’s products. These are a small portion of the $13 billion worth of goods Israel annually sells to the member states of the EU. Immediately affected are foodstuffs (fruit, vegetables, wine, honey) and cosmetics, but few doubt that the labeling principle will be more broadly applied in short order. The New York Times is guessing that Israeli banks that provide mortgages to West Bank homeowners, and retail stores handling goods in the areas listed, might come within the quasi-boycott.
In ordinary times product labeling, if not too costly, is a good idea. But these are not ordinary times. It is less than a year since the manager of Sainsbury’s supermarket in Holborn (in central London) removed kosher food from the shelves in fear of an attack for carrying it, and because “we support Gaza.” And that included kosher food wherever made. It is only a few months since jihadis shot and killed four Jews in a Paris supermarket after identifying them as Jews. Imagine what will happen to any store that carries goods labeled “made in occupied Palestine”.
A European Commission spokesman says, “The EU considers settlements in occupied territories illegal under international law.” Not a word about protecting consumers from shoddy or unsafe products. No worry about adding to the resources being devoted to tracking postcodes to make certain that no goods from the settlements enjoy duty-free status under the EU’s free-trade agreement with Israel.
Britain, in the person of its prime minister, led the charge for the new rule, ignoring the potential for mayhem it will create, helped along by France, which has forgotten the supermarket killings and might want to reconsider supporting the new rule in light of its history of treatment of Jews, and not only in the parts of the country occupied by Nazi Germany. Germany remembers its history: Alone among the big five European states, it refused to urge this action on the EU, and since enforcement of the labeling rule is left to the member states, might just decline to assign its inspectors and police the chore of checking the labels on goods lining supermarket shelves.