Boycott of Israeli settlement goods gains momentum
The close ties between Israel and Germany may become strained if the German government changes its policy on labeling Israeli goods that are produced in areas that Israel acquired in 1967. Until now, all Israeli goods, regardless of where they were produced, were labeled “Made in Israel.”
An official document was issued in response to German opposition members.
“In our view products should be labeled ‘Made in Israel’ only if they are manufactured within the 1967 borders,” the document states, according to Israeli press reports. That would exclude products made in the more than 140 communities built on land that Israel acquired in 1967, also known as the “West Bank.”
The European Union (EU) Ambassador to Israel Andrew Standley told Army Radio that efforts to single out products produced in these areas reflect the growing European impatience with what he called “Israeli settlements.” He said the new labeling would help European companies distinguish between products made in pre-1967 areas and post-1967 areas.
The volume of trade between Israel and the EU is quite high, with total trade amounting to more than $ 38 billion in 2011. The EU is Israel’s largest source of imports including machinery and chemicals, and second largest market for exports, including Israeli chemicals and precious and semi-precious stones. Israel has no statistics on how much of that trade came from post-1967 areas.
Israeli officials said that as far as they knew there had been no official change in policy.
“I’m not saying this will never happen,” Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson said. “But if the government is interested in doing it, they would contact us and have a conversation with us about it and this hasn’t happened.”
He also said that he doubted this would happen while the United States is engaged in an intense effort to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“As long as that is under way, nobody, least of all Germany, will do anything to antagonize the two sides,” he said.
But at least some Israeli officials did appear concerned about the potential change in German policy.
“We will fight,” Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin told Army Radio. “We are handling this initiative. We have brought up this issue at every meeting, with every delegation and with every foreign minister… We are not saying that this is a lost cause. There are ups and downs. It is Israel’s duty to deal with this issue and we have the tools to do so.”
Israel sees Germany as one of its closest allies, despite the fact that Germany was where the Holocaust during World War II took place. German governments since then have expressed deep remorse and thousands of young Germans volunteer in Israel every year.
But there has also been growing pressure in Europe by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) to protest Israel’s continued construction in post-1967 areas where some 600,000 Israelis now live alongside 2.3 million Palestinians.
The BDS movement has pressured artists to cancel concerts in Israel and academics to boycott conferences. Physicist Steven Hawking last month canceled his participation in a conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres.
“For a while now there is has been unhappiness with Israel’s “settlement” policy and patience is wearing thin,” Dr. Azriel Bermant, an expert on German-Israeli relations at the INSS think tank told The Media Line. “Germany is certainly one of Israel’s strongest supporters but there is a real difference of opinion over “settlement” building.”
He said that if Germany goes through with the plan to label as “made in Israel” only those goods produced in pre-1967 Israel, much of the EU would follow.
“Europe feels it can exert power via its strong trade links with Israel,” Bermant said. “Europe is frustrated over the lack of progress in the peace process and feels it can make its disapproval felt this way. Germany is one of the leading countries in Europe and may well influence other countries there.”