Products from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories must be labelled to avoid confusion with products that come from Israel itself, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Tuesday (12 November), in a move that provoked an angry response from pro-Israel lobbyists.
The Luxembourg-based court ruled that the “place of provenance of a foodstuff must… be indicated where failure to indicate this might mislead consumers into believing that a foodstuff has a country of origin or a place of provenance different from its true country of origin or place of provenance”.
It added that without such labelling, “consumers have no way of knowing, in the absence of any information capable of enlightening them in that respect.”
The case came to court after an Israeli winery based in a settlement near Jerusalem contested France’s application of a previous ECJ ruling on labelling.
Oxfam’s Country Director for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Shane Stevenson, described the ruling as “an important step in the right direction for the Palestinian people carrying the burdens of settlement expansion”.
“These settlements are illegal under international law. They are violating the rights and freedoms of Palestinians and further entrench poverty in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Consumers have a right to know the origin of the products they purchase, and the impact these purchases have on people’s lives.”
The question of whether products from the Occupied Territories should be labelled separately from those coming from Israel has long been a source of tension between Israel and the EU.
The Israeli government views the measure as a form of boycott.
EU foreign ministers have repeatedly said that the guidelines on labels for farm and other products, which were unveiled in 2015 explain EU law. Since the EU considers the Israeli settlements as illegal under international law, the bloc says the labelling policy does not constitute a boycott of Israel.
For their part, the Lawfare Project, a pro-Israel lobby group, accused the Court of opening up a “Pandora’s Box of politicised product labelling,” adding that it could also “create new barriers and disruptions to international trade, contrary to EU policy and in possible violation of the EU’s WTO obligations.”
“EU rules are there to provide fair and relevant information to consumers, not to cater to political prejudices,” said François-Henri Briard, lead counsel on the case, in a statement.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]