Israeli Foreign Minister Denounces E.U. Proposal to Label Settlement Products – NYTimes.com
JERUSALEM — Israel’s foreign minister on Friday angrily denounced a letter signed by more than a dozen of his European counterparts asking that the European Union require products made in Israeli settlements be labeled differently from those made in Israel.
Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, said if the European Union wanted to differentiate products made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, it should just stick a yellow star on the products, a pointed reference to the stars Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe were forced to wear.
The letter, signed by 16 foreign ministers, urged the European foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to clearly distinguish products sold in the European Union that are made in Israel from those made in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. It is similar to another letter, sent in 2013, by 13 members of the European Union to Ms. Mogherini’s predecessor.
“I have a recommendation for them,” Mr. Lieberman told Israel Radio. “They can take a yellow badge and mark all the products from Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights with a yellow badge,” he said, using alternate names for the West Bank and the mountainous plateau that Israel seized from Syria during the 1967 war.
The letter, which was sent on Monday, days before Israel’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust, was first reported on Friday by the Israeli daily Haaretz. Mr. Lieberman, the foreign minister, described it as “miserable timing.” The letter described the Israeli settlements as illegal and said their expansion affected the possibility of preserving a two-state solution, in which a Palestinian state could be established alongside Israel.
“The continued expansion of Israeli illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, and other territories occupied by Israel since 1967, threatens the prospect of a just and final peace agreement,” the letter said. The foreign ministers argued that specific labeling was needed to ensure that “consumers are not being misled by false information.”
An Israeli official said Israel did not expect the European Union to move forward on labeling settlement products, a move that has been discussed since 2012, at least not before a new Israeli government is formed.
The letter appeared to be timed to serve as a warning to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should he form a narrow, right-wing governing coalition that would not pursue peace negotiations with the Palestinians. It did not appear to suggest any immediate shift in European Union policy.
Rights groups and Palestinian activists have long pointed to Jewish settlement products sold in Europe, mostly agricultural goods that are labeled made in Israel, as an example of how Israel has sought to normalize the communities and industries it has built in the West Bank.
The letter marked the second time European foreign ministers urged their foreign policy chief to label goods made in Israeli settlements. Three of the signatories — Britain, Ireland and Belgium — now label products from there.
Germany did not sign the letter, and the issue of labeling goods from Israel is not on the agenda for a meeting Monday of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for the European Union’s foreign affairs department, played down the issue as “not new.” She said that the law already mandated clear place of origin labeling and that work had been underway for some time to put this into effect.
Shawan Jabarin, director of Al Haq, a Palestinian rights group that has lobbied European countries to ban Israeli settlement products, said the letter was a small “positive step.”
“Our message to the Europeans is that labeling has to lead to banning,” Mr. Jabarin said. “Without a ban, it’s empty talk. Why are you labeling it? For what? Is it just to tell the customers that this is stolen products, but you can buy it?”