What’s behind last week’s European Court of Justice ruling that Israeli goods produced in settlements on the West Bank must be labeled that they are from occupied territory and not from Israel itself? We ask this question because the ruling reflects a disconcerting bias against Israel and gives ammunition to those who want to isolate Israel economically and weaken it politically.
First, the bias. The ECJ says labels are required so that consumers will not mistake the products for those made in Israel proper. But Israel is not the only country in which territory is disputed. Why hasn’t ECJ required similar territorial labels for products made in disputed areas controlled by Turkey, Russia, Morocco or India? Why just Israel? That glaring double standard, according to the European Union’s International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, constitutes anti-Semitism, and is cause for grave concern.
Then there’s the aid and comfort to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS), and further promotion of the anti-Israel narrative. In a letter to European Parliament President David Sassoli, in which he called the ECJ ruling “disgraceful,” Israeli Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said that the “selective information” on which the court based its ruling “will inevitably result in a boycott of goods — first those from Judea, Samaria [West Bank] and the Golan Heights and then those from Israel as a whole.” He went on to say that “in doing so, the court has knowingly adopted the arguments long propounded by the BDS movement, whose extremist agenda aims to destroy the economy of Israel.”
Edelstein’s points are well taken and the slippery slope concerns us. The BDS movement claims it wants to end Israel’s challenged occupation of all contested areas, but its real objective is not the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Instead, it seeks to delegitimize Israel and her claim to sovereignty. The ECJ’s offensive ruling plays right into that corrosive narrative.
Other reactions to the ECJ ruling by several mainstream Jewish organizations were similarly direct: The American Jewish Committee Transatlantic Institute responded, saying, “labelling plays into the hands of those who seek to isolate and demonize the only Jewish state.” AIPAC tweeted that the court was supporting “discriminatory boycotts against the Jewish State.”
J Street, however, had a very different response.
“We welcomed the EU ruling and created resources to explain to American policymakers why — contrary to AIPAC and Trump administration talking points — differentiation between Israel and the territories it controls is a pro-Israel and pro-peace position,” wrote Jess Smith, chief operating officer, J Street. “In fact, under Israel’s own law, there is a vital difference between Israel inside the Green Line and the territory it occupies over it. Over the next year, we’ll be fighting to make sure that pro-Israel, anti-occupation views aren’t merely heard, but are reflected in the Democratic platform, on the debate stage and in the policies of the next president of the United States.”
Anti-Semitism from the far left, the far right and by Islamic extremists continues to plague many countries in Europe. It is naïve at best to ignore the fact that the ECJ ruling is likely to feed those sentiments, leading to ever worsening conditions for Jews.
So what’s next? Should Israel simply avoid international tribunals, virtually all of which seem to lack a moral or measured ethical backbone and shamelessly reflect dogmatic bias against the Jewish state? Or is there some point in engaging in the international dialogue, in the hopes of bringing logic, morality, equality and some semblance of justice to these proceedings?
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz wants to work with his European counterparts to prevent the implementation of what he called “this gravely flawed policy.” We wish him luck, but, sadly, at this point, we’re not optimistic. pjc