Labeling Israeli settlement products is US law, too – Josh Ruebner/TheHill
Last month, the European Union published guidelines stipulating that products made in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem cannot be labeled “Made in Israel.” Instead, the labeling must clearly indicate that they were produced in an Israeli settlement.
Although the guidelines do not ban the importation of Israeli settlement goods and the EU explicitly stated that it “does not support any form of boycott or sanctions against Israel,” dozens of members of Congress have castigated the EU’s decision and inaccurately portrayed it as a victory for the Palestinian civil society-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
On Nov. 9, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) sent a bipartisan letter signed by 36 senators to Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, slamming the impending guidelines as a “de-facto boycott of Israel” which “would prejudge the outcome of future negotiations.”
On Nov. 10, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and 35 other colleagues sent a sterner letter to Mogherini, claiming the EU’s guidelines would “promote restrictive and illegal trade measures against Israel.”
And on Nov. 12, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), the initiators of a successful effort earlier this year to make opposition to BDS a principal trade negotiating objective of the United States, urged the U.S. Trade Representative to “express opposition” to the EU guidelines.
In their exuberance to defend Israel’s illegal settlements, however, these members of Congress conveniently overlooked the fact that the United States adopted similar labeling requirements — more than 20 years ago.
In April 1995, the U.S. Customs Service issued a notice of policy in the Federal Register requiring that goods “produced in the territorial areas known as the West Bank or Gaza Strip shall be marked as ‘West Bank,’ ‘Gaza,’ or ‘Gaza Strip,'” and “shall not contain the words ‘Israel,’ ‘Made in Israel,’ ‘Occupied Territories-Israel,’ or words of similar meaning.” Customs further noted that a failure to conspicuously label the country of origin correctly in accordance with these requirements would lead to a 10 percent ad valorem duty levied on the product.
Although the U.S. regulations do not mandate that settlement products be marked as such like the EU regulations, U.S. law is quite clear on the subject: Israeli settlement products cannot be passed off to U.S. consumers as “Made in Israel” and any exporter doing so will not enjoy duty-free treatment under the terms of the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement.
In a recent Congressional Research Service report on this subject, the executive branch reaffirmed that “if a good is produced in the West Bank or Gaza, it remains a product of such no matter who produced it and no matter from where it is shipped … goods produced in the West Bank or Gaza should be labeled as such (and not as ‘Made in Israel’).”
Requiring that Israeli settlement products are labeled accurately as originating from the West Bank does not constitute a boycott or sanction against Israel or its settlements, congressional claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Omar Barghouti, the cofounder of the BDS movement, criticized the EU for explicitly failing to boycott or sanction Israeli settlement products in its guidelines. “Labeling the illegal products of Israeli colonies instead of banning them,” he wrote in Politico, “is seen by Palestinians as yet another EU failure to uphold European and international law.”
Nevertheless, ensuring that Customs enforces U.S. law and prohibits Israeli settlement products from being fraudulently marketed to U.S. consumers as “Made in Israel” is an important and necessary step to put teeth behind five decades of rhetorical yet feckless U.S. opposition to Israel’s illegal settlements.
First, this move will empower U.S. consumers to make an informed political and ethical decision about whether they want to financially support Israel’s ongoing dispossession of Palestinians through the colonization of their land.
Second, enforcing this law will lay the groundwork for more concerted and meaningful U.S. actions against Israel’s illegal settlements. These steps could include strengthening U.S. labeling guidelines to require Israeli settlement products be explicitly marked as such, removing Israeli settlement products from the purview of the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement altogether, and eventually banning their importation.
These steps against goods produced in Israel’s illegal settlements should be coupled with additional measures to oppose Israeli settlements and the violence settlers routinely inflict on Palestinians. For example, the State Department, which since 2010 has included Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians in its annual report on terrorism, should add organizations that support, advocate for or participate in such terrorist attacks to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. And the Treasury Department should investigate individuals involved in these terrorist attacks and add them to its list of Specially Designated Nationals, a move that would freeze their U.S. assets and prohibit U.S. persons from dealing with them.
In addition, the IRS should investigate the dozens of U.S. organizations designated as 501(c)(3) charities which funnel money to Israeli settlements. A recent investigation by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz documented more than 50 such organizations pouring more than $200 million into Israel’s colonization project between 2009 and 2013. At a minimum, these organizations should be stripped of their tax-deductible status for supporting the distinctly non-charitable purpose of driving Palestinians from their land.
Any of these sensible policy recommendations will undoubtedly meet vociferous opposition from members of Congress who protect and promote Israel’s illegal colonization of Palestinian land. But significant support exists among the American public for taking such actions. A recent public opinion poll by the Brookings Institution found that 37 percent of all Americans — and half of all Democrats — favor economic sanctions or more “serious action” to protest Israeli settlements.
If the United States truly opposes Israel’s illegal colonization of occupied Palestinian land, then it is long past time to take meaningful action.
Josh Ruebner is policy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and author of “Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.”