Towards consumer empowerment and a good Palestinian economy

DEFRA has issued supermarkets with guidance on labelling to differentiate between Palestinian produce and Israeli settler produce from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Although it is only voluntary, this will go some way to helping retail purchasers who would like to avoid sustaining the settlements but are eager to contribute to a prosperous and diverse Palestinian economy.

It isn’t a boycott call, but a move to support the Palestinian economy and to put weight behind the rhetoric about the settlements being an obstacle to peace. It will incidentally assist the minority of people who hope to sustain the settlements or would like to avoid contributing to a prosperous Palestinian economy, but that’s neither here nor there – it’s important to know the origins of your potential purchases.

I’ll be interested to see whether Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman’s fears about boycotters seizing on the guidance are born out.  The dominant campaigners in the boycott movement are reluctant to distinguish between the OPT and the state of Israel. They are out to end Israel’s existence and will be trying to conceal their disappointment at this labelling initiative, emphasising the distinction between Israel and its OPT settlements as it does. I haven’t noticed any celebrations at BIG or Inminds, for example.

War On Want are unhappy with the guidance and are calling for a ban on settlement produce. Until they demonstrate that their principles are universal, rather than singularly directed at Israel (search their site for ‘boycott’), they should be ignored.

23 Responses to “Towards consumer empowerment and a good Palestinian economy”

  1. Gaby Charing Says:

    Oh dear. What is a purchaser doing who avoids purchasing settlement produce in order to “avoid sustaining the settlements”? That’s right: boycotting them. And you are encouraging this? Because you disapprove of the settlements? Well so do I, but then I diaspprove of many people and many things but I don’t go around encouraging people to boycott them. Why them? Why not all the others? And you think this contributes to the peace process? Really?

  2. PetraMB Says:

    This is actually not a very straightforward issue, even though I think also the Palestinian authority is currently enforcing a “ban” on products from the settlements. The problem with this is (as indeed with the construction freeze) that this also hits thousands, if not tens of thousands of Palestinians workers who earn their living as construction workers or as workers in farms and enterprises run by the settlements.
    It’s also not a promising step because no Israeli government will be able to applaud it; indeed, at a time when the government is (sort of) taking on the settlers, pressure from outside — particularly in form of boycotts that of course come with a lot of historical baggage — is probably not very helpful.
    And then, given how the settlers are currently behaving, I think one also has to admit that nobody can compete with them when it comes to making them look bad…

  3. Anthony Posner Says:


    I am very confused about your position on this matter.

    (1) Will you buy produce from the settlements? If you won’t,

    (a) Do you buy produce from Iran? Pistachios etc?

    (b) Do you buy clothes made in China?

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      re Iran and China: not from Iran if I can help it, but I don’t tell other people what to do about produce from that country (but then I wouldn’t holiday in Spain while Franco was still alive and before Spain became a parliamentary democracy); China, yes, but I often have no choice if I want to buy particular products. As for this labelling suggestion, no-one is saying that supermarkets shouldn’t stock the products from either source, with or without labelling, or (in contrast to a boycott) _preventing_ people buying. This is because the goods may well still be there in store.

      I didn’t notice any shortage of SA goods in UK stores before 1991, Anthony, despite calls for a boycott of SA goods.

  4. Hal Says:

    Not to mention that many Palestinians receive an important income from planting, harvesting, packing and shipping West Bank produce. Were I to encounter such labeling, I might even be tempted to purchase the produce because of this fact.

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      Exactly – this DEFRA guidance empowers you, the consumer, to act according to your conscience. I don’t think it should be painted as a boycott call.

      If you are hoping to act in Palestinians’ best interest, do you think it’s important to consider how Palestinian civil society feels about international consumers buying settlement goods, and then include that in decision-making?

  5. Anthony Posner Says:

    Apologies. The above questions should have been directed to
    Mira Vogel.
    However, I would be interested to read your answers as well.

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      Hello Anthony – trust me, you don’t want to know about my consumer decision-making processes. They can be very baroque, and on a bad day, unprincipled.

      But the very fact that you are asking this indicates that you agree with my main point, which is that it is important to know the origin of your prospective purchases.

  6. Absolutely Observer Says:

    I am aware of many, many Israelis (and not the one or two individuals who are lauded by the pro-boycotters) who refuse to buy produce from the OT. I’m with them on this.

    I tend to try to buy things from countries where trade unions are both legal and functioning.

    Labeling is distinct from a boycott in general and from a boycott demand of the citizens of one country by the citizens of another country; nor does it raise question of why, out of nearly 200 states, some of them that are far more nasty in terms of what Israel is doing in the OT, only the Jewish state gets that treatment.

    Interestingly, like the Settlers themselves, so too do the boycotters make no distinction between Israel and the OT.
    The boycotters tend to be at one with the Greater Israel mob.
    Kind of ironic when you think about it.

  7. Absolutely Observer Says:

    Do you know if the PA and others Palestinians bodies support these labeling changes?
    I know that they consistently oppose boycotts, but not sure of their position on this. It would be good to find out what the thinking of this topic is. (I reserve my right, of course, like any thinking person, to make my own decision and argue accordingly!)

  8. Gaby Charing Says:

    Do people honestly think that when the Labour MP Phyllis Starkey raised the labelling issue in Parliament her motive was to empower consumers and facilitate consumer choice? Has she asked about the labelling of produce from Tibet? More British consumers care about Tibet than care about Palestine.

  9. Thomas Venner Says:

    Well, with any luck, the result will be as follows: Most people just carry on buying whatever they like, a few people who have no problem with Israel but oppose the settlements will choose not to buy produce from the settlements, and the SWP and all of their loathsome affiliates will continue to bleat on about a total boycott of Israel, providing us all with yet more evidence of their antisemitism.

    That said, seeing as this could take away a considerable amount of support for the total boycott campaign, I’m surprised that nobody in the SWP or the ironically-named PSC has, in a panic, denounced this move as an attempt by the “nefarious Zionist lobby” to undermine their campaign, or come up with paranoid claims that it’s actually being done to make it easier for us nefarious Zionists to support the settlers while boycotting Palestinian producers.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Thomas, wait, just wait…and stop giving them ideas on how to run their antisemitic campaigns. They ahve enough crazy ones already.

  10. Anthony Posner Says:

    The DEFRA statement gives the following “background” info and one has to conclude that this is the reason for the guidance on labelling..

    “the UK Government believes that the existence – and continued growth – of Israeli settlements poses a significant obstacle to peace in the Middle East. This is because the settlement of occupied territories makes it more difficult to establish a viable Palestinian state.”

    It should be noted that the guidelines state that there are no settlements in Gaza.

  11. Maven Says:

    “Although it is only voluntary, this will go some way to helping retail purchasers who would like to avoid sustaining the settlements but are eager to contribute to a prosperous and diverse Palestinian economy.”


    I have never seen any produce labelled “Form The Palestinian Territory” so how can one exercise a buying choice in their favour.

    Will these settlements be boycotted if they are absorbed into a Palestinians State, or if the negotiations determine they can be called “Israel”?

    The economies of many settlements sustain the local Palestinians. How will boycotting West Bank goods help them?

    Should Israeli agriculturalists retaliate and refuse to help Palestinians develop their economy since it would compete with the economy of settlers?

    The idea is full of holes.

    Under American law I believe it is unlawful to implement a boycott of Israeli goods. So, will it be unlawful for Wal-Mart in the UK to implement a boycott, and Costco?

  12. Gaby Charing Says:

    ““The UK Government believes that the existence – and continued growth – of Israeli settlements poses a significant obstacle to peace in the Middle East. This is because the settlement of occupied territories makes it more difficult to establish a viable Palestinian state.” Is this true? The status of the settlements will be part of any negotiations. Their present existence is simply an excuse for the Palestinians to refuse to negotiate. I see the hand of the FCO in this. We have the most anti-Israel Foreign Secretary since Ernest Bevin.

  13. Jonathan Hoffman Says:

    Letter sent by ZF to DEFRA Minister:

    Dear Hilary Benn

    The Zionist Federation was very disturbed to see the ‘labelling’ advice released by DEFRA on 10 December. I set out below six reasons why the advice is misplaced.

    First, you are singling out Israel . There are many other conflict areas in the world, for which DEFRA has not advised separate labelling, eg Tibet, Kashmir, Northern Cyprus, Chechnya, Kosovo, parts of Bosnia or even places like Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and Northern Ireland.

    Second, your advice is non-communitaire. The EC has rules on labelling and we fail to see why the UK feels it necessary to unilaterally add to them.

    Third, there has been a complete lack of consultation with organisations in the UK which support Israel . On Tuesday 31 March the Prime Minister chaired a “Round Table” on the subject of labelling. Representatives of the supermarkets were there as well as an observer from OXFAM even though that charity has disseminated untruths about Israel . No Israel-based organisation – such as the ZF – was invited. Further, this DEFRA advice was put out without a consultation.

    Fourth, your advice says “Israeli settlements in the OPT are unlawful under international law. They contravene Article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its own civilian population into occupied territory.” That is simply not true. The government of the United States for one does not hold that the settlements are unlawful. Article 49 (6) says “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Taken together with the use of the word ‘forcible’ in the sentence at the start of the same paragraph (“Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive”) it is clear that it is forcible transfer into occupied territory which is wrong. This interpretation is underlined by the historic context of the Convention which was drafted after World War Two and was intended to prevent a repeat of the forcible population transfers carried out by Germany and Russia . None of the settlers has been ‘forced’ to move to the West Bank. All have moved of their own free will.

    Fifth, in the aftermath of the Gaza operation one year ago and with the TUC calling for a ban on the import of settlement goods, your advice will only fuel pressure for a boycott of Israeli goods. We reject completely the logic for this since Israel has every right to defend itself and as stated by Colonel Richard Kemp “the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

    Sixth, there are 30,000 Palestinian workers in the settlements. If this advice leads to reduced purchases of goods from settlements, it will be harmful for them.

    I look forward to your early response and hope that on further consideration you will withdraw this advice.

    Yours sincerely
    Andrew Balcombe
    Chairman, Zionist Federation

    • Gaby Charing Says:

      Spot on.

      • Mira Vogel Says:

        Not spot on, Jonathan. As I just commented on Progressive Zionist’s more recent post on “Transparency Not Boycott”, we need to distinguish between what we guess about the motivations of the people demanding the labelling guidance, and the guidance itself. We need to keep the trade agreement in mind here.

        Since at least 2005 – maybe much further back, I haven’t checked – the EU trade agreement has differentiated between Israeli, Palestinian and Israeli settler produce:

        “Products originating in the Israeli settlements in the West-Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are not entitled to benefit from preferential tariff treatment under the EU-Israel Association Agreement. These products must carry proofs of origin made out in Israel that show the name of the city, village or industrial zone where production conferring originating status has taken place.”

        Click to access tradoc_127720.pdf

        Now look at the Israel-EU agreement.

        Hopefully it is clear that the only group from which preferential treatment is withheld – by longstanding EU agreement and rightly in my view – is Israeli settlers.

        The only controversy, in fact, is that Israeli settlers have enjoyed exceptionally and unduly favourable treatment due to lax attention to the terms of this agreement. I can’t see a single good reason to complain about guidance being issued so that importers and retailers can adhere to these terms. To complain about this is basically to argue for exceptional preferential treatment for Israeli settlers. Do you really want to do that? Most people think of Israeli settlement in the OPTs as one of the major obstacles to peace.

        (Jonathan, in my experience there are two reasons to resort insults about naivity – either cynicism or the lack of a good argument.)

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