Patience Runs Out: EU To Crack Down on Israeli Settlement Products

By Christoph Schult in Brussels

Photo Gallery: A Deceptive 'Made in Israel' Label Photos
AFP

Israeli settlers living in the Palestinian terroritories often deceptively give their products a "Made in Israel" label. The European Union wants to move soon to end the practice and appears to be set on a collision course with the country.

The wine section on the basement floor of the Galeria Kaufhof department store in downtown Cologne has a good assortment of wines from around the world. Above the bottles, the shelves bear little tags showing the prices and flags of the countries of origin.

One cubicle has a tag showing a blue Star of David on a white background. At first glance, one might be led to believe that the wine comes from Israel. It even says "Wine of Israel" on the label. However, it requires a good bit of geographical and historical expertise to figure out the true origin of this €14.99 ($20) bottle of wine. The label says it is a 2008 "Gamla" Cabernet Sauvignon, "Produced & Bottled by Golan Heights Winery." The address provided is "12900 Katzrin, Israel."

But that address isn't in Israel. Katzrin is a settlement in the Golan Heights. Until the Six Day War of 1967, the rock plateau stretching some 60 kilometers (37 miles) belonged to Syria. The Israeli army has occupied both it and the Palestinian West Bank ever since.

The international community has never recognized Israeli sovereignty over these areas, and the Geneva Convention outlaws the establishment of settlements within occupied territories. Nevertheless, successive Israeli governments have allowed colonies to be built up within them and, today, some 650,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently confirmed what little concern the Israeli government has for respecting international law on this issue. "The days of bulldozers flattening settlements to the ground are over," he told the daily tabloid Maariv.

Israel held parliamentary elections on Jan. 22 and is now in the process of forming a new coalition government to be led by Netanyahu. Although the coalition will include the liberal parties in the political center, politicians representing settlers will also have a strong voice in the new government. This configuration is diminishing the hopes of politicians in Berlin, Brussels and Washington who were eager to revive the comatose Middle East peace process.

Confrontation Course

This has prompted the European Union officials to move forward with planning that will put them on a confrontation course with Israel. The main issue is settlement policies. At a meeting in December, the foreign ministers of the EU's 27 member states reiterated "their commitment to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing European Union legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products." In other words, they intend to prohibit the sale of goods produced in the occupied territories -- or at least as long as they are falsely labelled.

Sanctions against products from the settlements would be a major blow to the Israeli economy. Each year, the settlers export some €220 million worth of goods to Europe, whereas the comparable figure for the Palestinians is a mere €15 million. Israel has accordingly reacted very negatively to the plans in Brussels. In a response to the plans, the Israeli Embassy in Berlin argued that there are territorial disputes all over the world. "If this kind of labelling regulation is not universal, and seeks to single out one place exclusively, namely Israel," it said, "then this measure will be inherently iniquitous and discriminatory by nature, and it should be treated as such."

Such charges have not been intimidating to officials in Brussels. Employees of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU diplomatic service ushered in by the Treaty of Lisbon, recently sifted through the entire corpus of EU legislation in order to determine which directives and regulations could be cited in efforts to ban settler-made products. The list of applicable legislation, which SPIEGEL has obtained, shows that the lion's share of potentially banned products involves foodstuffs.

Difficulties in Verifying Origins

For example, European Council Regulation 1234/2007 sets rules "on specific provisions for certain agricultural products," including wine. Among the product information that must be declared is origin. But, in practice, the law is constantly violated.

Council Regulation 479/2008 stipulates who is responsible for monitoring that wine is properly labelled. Article 62 says: "The competent authorities of the Member States shall take measures to ensure that a product referred to in Article 59(1)" -- including wine and related grapevine products -- "not labelled in conformity with this Chapter is not placed on, or is withdrawn from, the market."

The red wine from the Golan Heights sold in the Galeria Kaufhof is imported to Germany by Champagner und Wein Distributionsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG, a company based in the northern German state of in Schleswig-Holstein. But the state's ministry responsible for agriculture doesn't see any reason to take action. A ministry spokeswoman says that since Israel's Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor has already provided a document confirming the origin of the wine, there is no deception in the matter.

The EU member states also rely on the information supplied by Israeli exporters when it comes to fruit and vegetables. It is difficult to verify precisely where an orange or olive has been harvested. Right now, one of the main things EU officials are looking into are dates that are grown by Israeli settlers in the occupied Jordan Valley.

Products from Israeli cosmetics firm Ahava are also the subject of dispute. The company produces creams and shower gels that contain minerals from the Dead Sea. The products' packaging includes the details, "Dead Sea Laboratories. Israel." In truth, the products are manufactured at the edge of the Dead Sea in the occupied West Bank.

The company refused to answer detailed legal questions. "Ahava works in coordination with the German authorities, the European Commission and under the law," the company stated, tersely. But the apparent calm was feigned. Ahava immediately informed the Israeli Embassy in Berlin about SPIEGEL's reporting.

The German importer of Ahava products is based in Wiesbaden, so any control of its products is the responsibility of the city, which is the state capital of Hesse. In a written response to a query from SPIEGEL, the city's consumer protection department wrote that because the company's headquarters is officially located within the recognized borders of the state of Israel, "nothing misleading can be detected."

Countries Turn Blind Eye to Imports

But officials at the EU in Brussels have a different view. Under EU Regulation 2005/29, a trader is considered to be conducting misleading actions when it presents material information "in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner." The European Commission considers such practices to be "misleading omissions". Officials in Brussels have come to the conclusion that controllers in many EU member states are simply turning a blind eye to products originating from Israeli settlements.

A SPIEGEL review of all 27 EU national governments confirmed this suspicion. The simple question of whether or not products from settlements in the West Bank or the Golan Heights "come from Israel" generated highly varied answers. Britain, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Estonia, the Netherlands, Austria, Spain and Cyprus all answered the question with a clear "no". These countries consider products with the labels "Product of Israel" or "Made in Israel" to be misleading. A spokesperson with the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wrote that, "Items imported into the UK from Israeli settlements, such as those in the West Bank, can't lawfully be labelled as products of Israel."

Other EU countries expressed uncertainty. Given the country's difficult history, officials in Germany are taking pains to avoid anything that might evoke any kind of historical associations with the Nazis' campaigns to prevent people from buying products from Jews. German government officials are urging the European Commission to provide "guidance assistance on the implementation of EU law in relation to a consistency with EU law and correct labelling."

A number of EU countries see no problem whatsoever with the labelling. They point out that sales are legal as soon as customs officials have approved the products. However, the only thing that customs officials check is whether or not the products fall under the EU-Israel Association Agreement. If they do, then importers are not required to pay an import tariff.

The Galeria Kaufhof department store chain also sees no reason to act. The company argues it is the sole responsibility of suppliers to ensure proper labelling. The company also spoke to the Israeli Embassy in Berlin before answering a question from this SPIEGEL reporter. "Suppliers and the embassy were able to give us credible assurances that their actions are legal," a company spokesman wrote.

He also added that "Galeria Kaufhof, like the majority of the people, wish the Middle East peace."

Article...
For reasons of data protection and privacy, your IP address will only be stored if you are a registered user of Facebook and you are currently logged in to the service. For more detailed information, please click on the "i" symbol.

Post to other social networks

Comments
Discuss this issue with other readers!
6 total posts
Show all comments
    Page 1    
1.
prole30 02/11/2013
What year is it in Germany today? 1937. Your article "EU to crack down" is not a news story but anti-Semitic propaganda. "Occupied territories?" There is no such thing. You are referring to disputed territories. These were liberated from an illegal Jordanian occupation in 1967. You cannot "occupy" what never belonged to anyone. Israeli settlers are there under Article 80 of the United Nations Charter. This recognizes the validity of the Balfour Declaration which states: "Jew have a right to live anywhere in Palestine." Article 80 is international law. Our PM doesn't respect international law? That is an anti-Semitic slur because it is an outright lie. Those who don't respect the UN Charter are the ones in violation of international law. As for the Golan Heights, Syria launched two invasions from there and the land was seized as a security measure. They have as much chance of getting it back as Germany has of getting East Prussia back. You pay for making aggressive wars.
2. Irresponsible government
GKP 02/12/2013
Doesn't the EU have something better to do to occupy itself that alienate Israel? Last I looked, they're listed as allies. If they were the only country guilty of misleading labelling then maybe there'd be a point to it, except that during the middle of an internal horsemeat bunfight it's a ludicrous assertion. When in a glass house etc., Better something honestly produced by Israelis than the incredibly complex marketing tricks found within the EU(maybe)which is obviously intended to obscure what it is and where it came from.
3. Proper Labeling of Products from Palestinian Territories
margbb 02/12/2013
It appears that the old shell game is being offered, to muddle and avoid EU laws and regulations. If milk tainted with toxic chemicals is labeled with a wrong source location, how can this unhealthy practice be dealt with or investigated? Enough, lets deal with the exact place of origin and stop wasting time and money in a useless exercise of playing to Israeli politics. If any item or product is produced in the occupied territories then those trying to sell said item know exactly what source area should be listed. Any products already known to be mislabeled should be taken off the market and withdrawn from sale till the correct place of origin is properly shown. It really can get that simple if the will to act is there.
4. Golan
doryt 05/11/2013
If you read the article of which I give the link, you can see that years ago Rothschild had bought large pieces of the Golan and some of his bought land is in Syrie itself. http://www.mail-archive.com/public-list@neither.org/msg00853.html "Israel has legal title over a large chunk of the Golan Heights and Western Syria. In the 1890s, Baron Rothschild purchased 20,000 acres of Syrian land owned by the Ottoman empire. In 1942, the Syrian government illegally confiscated the land. The Baron transferred the deeds to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in 1957."
5.
shnadav 05/12/2013
---Quote (Originally by margbb)--- It appears that the old shell game is being offered, to muddle and avoid EU laws and regulations. If milk tainted with toxic chemicals is labeled with a wrong source location, how can this unhealthy practice be dealt with or investigated? Enough, lets deal with the exact place of origin and stop wasting time and money in a useless exercise of playing to Israeli politics. If any item or product is produced in the occupied territories then those trying to sell said item know exactly what source area should be listed. Any products already known to be mislabeled should be taken off the market and withdrawn from sale till the correct place of origin is properly shown. It really can get that simple if the will to act is there. ---End Quote--- Your main fear seems to be to origin of products in case of toxic chemicals and such things. Your fear is baseless. Quoting from the article: "The label says it is a 2008 "Gamla" Cabernet Sauvignon, "Produced & Bottled by Golan Heights Winery." The address provided is "12900 Katzrin, Israel.". Therefore, finding the exact location were it was made is very easy. The products are clearly labeled by who ever manufactured them. It can be easily be traced to the exact location where it was manufactured. Like most products in the world the owners of those products want to make a name for themselves and are proud in their products and clearly label them. The so called "problem" is that they also labeling them as manufactured in Israel. That is because we live in Israel and Israel's lands includes the West Bank and the Golan heights. Therefore, this is a pure political matter. For you is an argue of whether West Bank and Golan is part of Israel or not. For us it's the matter of people leaving far a way from Israel, not really understanding the hard issues we have here, yet believing they have the right to undermine our legitimate rights in our own country. Until you have a through understanding of what is really going in Israel I suggest you stick to what you know. Stop using a lame excuses in order to demand a political decision.
Show all comments
    Page 1    
Keep track of the news

Stay informed with our free news services:

All news from SPIEGEL International
Twitter | RSS
All news from Europe section
RSS

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2013
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH



  • Print Send
  • Feedback
  • Comment | 6 Comments
From DER SPIEGEL


European Partners
Facebook
Twitter