The European Union’s top court has ruled that EU countries must oblige retailers to identify products made in Israeli settlements with special labels, in a ruling likely to spark anger in Israel.
The European Court of Justice ruling clarifies labelling rules for Israeli settlement products sold in France specifically – but could have repercussions in the rest of the EU
Foods from Israeli settlements must be identified as such with special labelling, the EU’s top court has ruled. Consumers must be able to take ethical considerations in their purchasing decisions, it found.
Simply indicating that goods originate in the state of Israel, when in fact they came from an occupied territory, could mislead consumers about the fact that Israel “is present in the territories concerned as an occupying power and not as a sovereign entity,” the European Court of Justice (ECJ) found.
The case now reverts to the French courts for a final ruling, in line with the ECJ verdict.
Last June, an advocate general of the European Court of Justice released his legal opinion that a 2018 decision by a French court not to require marking wine bottles produced in Jewish West Bank settlements is invalid.
The advocate general noted that EU law requires that a product made on a territory captured by Israel since 1967 be marked as produced in the settlements.
France’s top tribunal sought clarification from the ECJ after the country published guidelines in 2016 that products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights must carry labels making their precise origin clear. The guidelines were challenged by the Organisation Juive Europeene (European Jewish Organisation) and Psagot, a company that runs vineyards in occupied territories.
The ECJ found that simply indicating that goods originate in the state of Israel, as opposed to occupied territory, could mislead consumers about the fact that Israel “is present in the territories concerned as an occupying power and not as a sovereign entity,” it said in a statement.
It said product information must allow consumers to make informed choices relating “not only to health, economic, environmental and social considerations, but also to ethical considerations,” as well as the observance of international law.
The regions affected include the West Bank, annexed east Jerusalem, internationally accepted as occupied Palestinian land, and the Golan Heights, taken from Syria in 1967.
The EU does not accept these territories as belonging to Israeli territory.
In 2018, a French court granted the Psagot winery’s request not to enforce the EU directive to mark products manufactured in the settlements, however, ordered that the ECJ should review the decision since France is subjected to the EU law.
According to the directive, consumers must be explicitly informed whether products were made in the West Bank.
Psagot claimed marking the products is contradictory to the local constitution.
So far, the EU decision has barely been implemented. Psagot’s petition to the ECJ, which led to the advocate general’s decision, might cause a more significant enforcement of the EU law, exactly the opposite of what the winery wanted to achieve.
The winery did not receive financial support from the State of Israel during legal proceedings, fearing its request will lead to an unwanted outcome.
Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and began settling both areas shortly afterwards. The Palestinians claim both areas as parts of a future state, a position that has global support.
The international community opposes settlement construction, saying their continued growth undermines the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel. Today, nearly 700,000 Israelis live in the two areas, almost 10% of the country’s Jewish population.
The ECJ underlined that settlements “give concrete expression to a policy of population transfer conducted by that state outside its territory, in violation of the rules of general international humanitarian law”.
It said that any failure to identify the point of origin of produce meant that “consumers have no way of knowing, in the absence of any information capable of enlightening them in that respect, that a foodstuff comes from a locality or a set of localities constituting a settlement established in one of those territories in breach of the rules of international humanitarian law”.
The case came to court after an Israeli winery based in a settlement near Jerusalem contested France’s application of a previous ECJ ruling on the labelling. That ruling backed the use of origin identifying tags but did not make them legally binding.
A growing BDS movement
The groups were concerned that such labelling would facilitate boycotts, such as those endorsed by the BDS movement, which Israel sees as anti-Semitic.
This comes as the BDS movement gains more ground, for example Norway’s capital Oslo is the newest area to ban Israeli settlement goods and services, if the labelling is adopted by other EU countries this will make it easier for the increasingly popular BDS movement, to identify products the wish to boycott.
The ban on goods from Israel’s illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is a part of the newly adopted platform for 2019 – 2023 approved by Oslo’s recently-elected City Council, led by the Socialist Left (SV), Labour and Green parties.
Despite concerted efforts by Israel and its right-wing allies in Norway and worldwide to repress accountability measures in support of Palestinian rights, Oslo, Norway’s capital and largest city, has now become the sixth Norwegian municipality to ban settlement goods and services, along with one county council.
Last week, the U.N. independent expert on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, called for an international ban on all Israeli settlements products, as a step towards ending Israel’s 52-year-old illegal occupation.
Palestinian Liberation Organisation Secretary General Saeb Erekat called the ruling a “legal and political obligation.”
“Our demand is not only for the correct labelling reflecting the certificate of origin of products coming from illegal colonial-settlements, but for the banning of those products from international markets,” he said in a statement.
Activists have advocated a boycott of Israeli settlement goods, among other products they say contribute to entrenching Israel’s violations of international law and human rights.
In July, a court in Canada ruled that “Product of Israel” labels on wines from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank were “false, misleading and deceptive”.
“One peaceful way in which people can express their political views is through their purchasing decisions. To be able to express their views in this manner, however, consumers have to be provided with accurate information as to the source of the products in question,” Anne L Mactavish, a Canadian judge, said in her ruling at the time.