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Israel Criticizes New EU Guidelines On Labeling Products From Settlements


A lot of the tags and stickers we see here in the U.S. say things like, made with pride in the USA or, of course, made in China. In much of Europe, some products that might have once said made in Israel will now be required to say things like, made in occupied territories or made in Israeli settlements. European Union regulators say their consumers demand this. But it has caused outrage in Israel. NPR's Emily Harris is here now to talk about it. Hi, Emily.


MCEVERS: And so what is this new requirement?

HARRIS: What's required is that products made in Israeli settlements are labeled as that when they are an item that Europe requires have a label of origin. The European Commission yesterday basically spelled out specific new guidelines for labeling laws that are already on the books. For example, things like fresh produce have to be labeled by origin in Europe, and those labels must be accurate and not misleading according to European law.

The European commission says calling something made in Israel when it's actually made in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, for example, would be misleading. So the new guidance says that products made by Israeli businesses in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights have to say they're made in Israeli settlements or some such equivalent that a member country would want to use. They can't say they're made in Israel.

MCEVERS: Are we talking about other stuff beyond produce?

HARRIS: Well, produce is a big part of it - herbs, avocados, tomatoes. Also there's wine, which has a growing world market - honey, olive oil, eggs and cosmetics, including some products from the Dead Sea.

MCEVERS: So why did the EU make this decision?

HARRIS: There's a couple reasons, and it's been cooking a long - for a long time. But first, European laws don't recognize the West Bank, the Golan Heights or East Jerusalem as part of the state of Israel. These are territories that Israel won in 1967. And Europe, as well as the U.S. and most of the world, recognize them as occupied until the parties work out a settlement themselves.

And then second - this is a reason the European Commission kept citing - European consumers, they say, want this. They want this choice. European officials say they have no interest in promoting a boycott of goods made in Israeli settlements, but there are certainly other parties who do promote such boycotts. And labeling, it seems, would make that choice easier.

MCEVERS: So basically they want people to be able to make a choice whether they want to buy this or not.

HARRIS: That's what the European Commission cites exactly.

MCEVERS: So Israeli officials have not been reacting well to this, I understand.

HARRIS: Not very well at all. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it an immoral decision. Israel's Foreign Ministry called the EU ambassador in to rebuke him, actually, and said that this is a political decision that strengthens entities who don't want Israel to even exist. And I think the main reason this is such a strong reaction is because it sort of forces the issue onto people who maybe haven't thought about Israeli settlements and their role in the ongoing conflicts here. Now they're going to see a label in the grocery store or at the cosmetic counter.

Israel, under its domestic law, considers the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem to be annexed and considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be legitimate. And Israel's basically worried that the occupation of the West Bank, as it continues with no citizenship rights for two-and-a-half million Palestinians there, that public opinion around the world might shift against them and their view of the occupation.

MCEVERS: What about the Palestinians? What do they think about these new requirements?

HARRIS: Well, Palestinian officials welcome it. Saeb Erekat, who's the chief Palestinian negotiator when negotiations with Israel are actually going on - he says it will hold Israel accountable. And he actually says that it actually will lead to a boycott to made-in-settlement products. And then a spokesman for Hamas, the militant Palestinian group running the Gaza Strip, has said Hamas appreciates this move. The real impact of any labeling is going to depend, ultimately, on how much European consumers care about where these products are coming from.

MCEVERS: That NPR's Emily Harris in Jerusalem. Thanks so much.

HARRIS: Thanks, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.