A day after the European Union voted to label Israeli products originating from Judea and Samaria, which infuriated Israelis across the political spectrum, the US administration came out in support of the EU position.
The Obama administration said Thursday it doesn’t consider a new European Union (EU) rule outlawing “Made in Israel” tags on goods from Judea and Samaria as a boycott of the Jewish state, only a technical guideline for consumers.
The EU rule triggered a fierce backlash from both the Israeli government and the Opposition.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the EU “should be ashamed.”
“The EU decision is hypocritical and constitutes a double standard; it singles out Israel and not the 200 other conflicts around the world,” the Israeli leader stated on Wednesday. “The EU has decided to label only Israel, and we are not prepared to accept the fact that Europe is labeling the side that is being attacked by terrorism,” he said, referring to the current wave of Palestinian terror throughout Israel.
“I harshly oppose this harmful and superfluous move. It serves only one purpose, the continuation of hate and conflict in the area. Labeling products is a violent act of extremists who want to worsen the situation here even more, and the EU is falling in the trap that they have set,” Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, head of the Zionist Union party, declared last week.
“What you see is really that some people, and here unfortunately some institutions in the European Union, are taking steps against Israel that are unparalleled in similar situations,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told journalists on Tuesday.
The EU did not taken similar action regarding products made in areas such as Chinese-controlled Tibet or Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, “so we cannot conceive it but as some disguised anti-Semitism,” Steinitz charged.
The US expressed strong support for the EU position on Thursday, clarifying its position regarding goods produced in Israeli communities beyond the pre-Six Day War armistice lines.
In June 1967, within six days Israel liberated Judea and Samaria, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in a war of self-defense. The IDF launched an offensive, as Egypt, Syria and Jordan were preparing for war, vowing to destroy the Jewish state.
“We do not believe that labeling the origin of products is equivalent to a boycott,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “And as you know, we do not consider settlements to be part of Israel. We do not view labeling the origin of products as being from the settlements as a boycott of Israel.”
Before the EU acted, the US position was more ambiguous. Toner and other officials had stressed only that Washington opposed any boycotting of Israel, while saying the EU’s response “shouldn’t come as a surprise” given Israel’s continued construction of settlements on land the Palestinians seek for their future state.
Toner said the labeling rule only clarifies existing European regulations and wasn’t a “new measure.”
“These are technical guidelines delineating the origin of products. Consumers will then be aware of the origin of a product when purchasing it, as they are made aware for products across the globe,” he said.
While the EU is Israel’s largest trade partner, settlement products account for less than two percent of Israel’s 13 billion euro ($14 billion) exports to Europe each year. Still, the move is highly symbolic, signaling Europe’s growing discontent with Israel amid a long, diplomatic deadlock in the Mideast peace process.
“The Israeli economy is strong and will withstand this; those who will be hurt will be those Palestinians who work in Israeli factories,” Netanyahu asserted.