Labelling of Israeli and Palestinian products – transparency not boycott.

This is a guest post by “Progressive Zionist”

Earlier this month, an article on Engage welcomed the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) new guidance for the labelling of West Bank products. The document recommends that UK retailers should label produce as either “Israeli settlement“ or “Palestinian.“

It is telling how this non-binding document has stoked the ire of intransigent, anti-peace groups. Organisations united in their opposition to the Defra paper range from anti-Zionist campaign group, War on Want, who want to boycott Israel out of existence, to leader of the settlers’ Yesha Council, Dani Dayan.

It didn’t take long for UK Zionist Federation chair, Andrew Balcombe, to fire off a sharp letter to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Hilary Benn, defending the settlements and claiming that the advice “will only fuel pressure for a boycott of Israeli goods”.

Mr Balcombe is wrong on both counts.

From personal experience, one of the key arguments put forward by boycotters like the Palestine Solidarity Campaign is that by buying an avocado labelled ‘Israel’ you could actually be buying produce from a West Bank settlement. Therefore, you should steer clear of anything remotely Israeli. This new labelling represents another nail in the coffin of their argument (which isn’t about the settlements – it’s about Israel full stop). Consumers can now buy Israeli food, drink and cosmetics with transparency and confidence.

The heat of this debate has risen out of proportion to reality – the volume of West Bank produce entering the UK is tiny. These knee-jerk reactions are unhelpful and make unlikely bedfellows of War on Want and the Zionist Federation. Both seek to blur the distinction between Israel and the West Bank – running against Israel’s security and welfare.

25 Responses to “Labelling of Israeli and Palestinian products – transparency not boycott.”

  1. Steven Says:

    If you used your brain, you would see this labelling will have a great negative effect due to the growing antisemitism that is rife in our society. When these products are stocked, business owners will be pressured by the usual suspects. If you don’t want to stand against this move, fine, but don’t use your time writing material that defends this move. It is bad enough as it is with people literally raiding some stores and re-labelling goods with propaganda.

  2. Jonathan Hoffman Says:

    The notion that this move is going to take the wind out of the PSC’s sails – as opposed to encouraging them to work for a full boycott of Israeli academics and goods – is ridiculous. Look at the recent BRICUP meetings with Kasrils.

    And it will be copied by other EU countries. As for ‘non-binding’ … the supermarkets announced within seconds that they would implement it.

    You are being naive.

    • Progressive Zionist Says:

      Dear Mr Hoffman – it is naive to believe that opposing Defra’s guidance will take the wind out of the BDS campaign’s sails. The ZF defending the settlements only adds fuel to the anti-Zionists’ fire.

      Credit to the ZF for its Israel advocacy work – alas, this was not one of its finer moments.

      • Jonathan Hoffman Says:

        When has the ZF defended the settlements? The ZF does not have a position on the settlements. My personal position is Resolution 242 – the settlements (with some land swaps) will be abandoned but only in exchange for peace. Also that the statement ‘they are illegal under international law’ is not susceptible of proof. But that is my personal position. The ZF has none.

  3. Fabian from Israel Says:

    I agree, and Israel should label your products as “UK” or “Malvinian settlements” just for transparence.

  4. Gaby Charing Says:

    Michael – I posted extensively last time, and will therefore be brief. I am not a right-wing Zionist – it is too easy to dismiss people’s arguments by applying labels like that. I think you are engaging in wishful thinking, and this will stoke the fires.

  5. Steven Says:

    This blog is doing a disservice by publishing this complete nonsense under the banner of a campaign against anti-semitism. You ought not to publish anything from this author again.

  6. Mira Vogel Says:

    Nice post PZ.

    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.”

    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.)

  7. Absolute Observer Says:


    Who the hell do you think you are?
    Engage will publish what it wants when it wants by whomsoever it wants.
    If you don’t like it, then fuck off!

  8. Absolute Observer Says:

    The fact of the matter is that everything that involves Israel can be exploited by anti-zionists and the boycotters. Some az’s and boycotters will see this as a “victory” Green sees it differently.

    Since when, however, should we – i.e. those who believe in a two-state solution that includes the end of the Occupation and of the Settlements – let the agenda be set by those wishing to exploit the situation for their own nefarious purposes.

    If Jews let antisemites set the agenda, then every Jew in the world would be stymied from acting.

    Likewise, if Zionists and non-zionists let the az’s and the boycotters set the agenda, then every one in that camp would be stymied from acting.

    To argue that moves such as this are to be opposed since it will give the az’s and boycotters “ammunition”, then they will have been accorded a respect that they do not deserve.

  9. Gaby Charing Says:

    This discussion is now continuing on two threads, which is rather confusing. Mira Vogel refers us to the EU-Israel association agreement. Concessions under the agreement apply only to goods from Israel proper, not to goods from any of the occupied territories or Golan. Therefore, for the purposes of enforcing the agreement, HMRC need only to be able to distinguish between Israel and the occupied territories. Everything else is about boycotting settlement goods, which has nothing to do with the association agreement.
    I would refer readers to the Westminster Hall debate on 2 Dec at (scroll down). I make two points.
    Firstly, replying to the debate the minister said as follows: “By law, an importer or retailer needs only to give a country or a recognised geographical area by way of an origin declaration. The west bank is a recognised geographical area. Therefore, as far as the Government are concerned, it continues to be perfectly legal to give that description of origin on the labels of goods imported from the west bank.
    My hon. Friend has expressed a view different from that, and ultimately the interpretation of legal definitions is a matter for the courts. However, the legal advice that the Government have received does not suggest that using “west bank” as a description of origin would be considered misleading.”
    Secondly, read the debate (it is very short) and notice who Phyllis Starkey’s supporters are, who the lawyers are that she quotes, and indeed what her own record is on Israel-Palestine matters. As I said previously on the other thread, consumer choice here means boycott. The campaign to get the labelling guidance changed aims to facilitate and encourage a boycott of settlment goods. Does Engage support the boycott of settlement goods?

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      “Concessions under the agreement apply only to goods from Israel proper, not to goods from any of the occupied territories or Golan.”

      Read it again – not just the Israel-EU agreement but also the agreement with Palestinians, to which I linked. Palestinians get preferential treatment by the EU. “Israel proper” gets preferential treatment by the EU. The Israeli settlements on Palestinian territories do not get preferential treatment by the EU. The reason for this is that the EU is opposed to them and does not want to sustain them. Neither should we.

      So in order to act on this guidance, importers and distributors need to know which produce is from Israelis, which from Palestinians and which from settlers.

      How is this not simple?

      • Gaby Charing Says:

        Thank you for confirming that this has nothing to do with the EU-Israel association agreement, which distinguishes only between Israel and the occupied territories. However, you have not answered my question: does Engage support a boycott of settlement goods? Yes or no?

        • Mira Vogel Says:

          Gaby, there are a few of us writing here, we’re in sporadic touch and we’ve been known to disagree on things. There is rarely any central line, so I’m guessing there will be no campaigning for a boycott on this blog.

          Maybe it will help if I explain my interest in this matter. The DEFRA guidance seems relevant to me as a writer on Engage because on this blog I give a lot of time and attention to the co-incidence of antisemitism, anti-Zionism and what passes for pro-Palestinian activism. It’s therefore very important to draw attention to counter-examples. I think that the DEFRA guidance illustrates a pro-Palestinian policy which is free from either antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and is due recognition as such. This is not tantamount to support for a boycott.

  10. Fabian from Israel Says:

    Don’t complain later when things produced or sold in Latrun, East Talpiot, Jerusalem’s Old city or Pisgat Zeev are labelled “Israeli settlements” for the purpose of “transparence”. I repeat, if it is a question of transparence, Israel should label some of your products “Malvinian settlements” and see if you like it.

  11. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Gaby, no of course Engageniks don’t support a boycott, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to operate a choice as to where they buy their goods from. As I noted to Anthony Posner on another thread, during the consumer “boycott” of South African goods, I didn’t notice any shortage of SA goods in the shops, but I chose not to buy them. Similarly, I chose not to holiday in Spain, but that didn’t mean that I attempted to forcibly stop others holidaying there.

    Aren’t we always calling for more information on our consumer choices? Air miles travelled, political acceptability of origin countries, etc, etc. This doesn’t mean that just because goods are labelled in a certain way, people will _therefore_ stop buying them.

    What’s different here? Just because people like Phyllis Starkey are whatever they are, doesn’t mean _therefore_ everything she calls for is wrong.

  12. Steve From Raleigh Says:

    Transparency is the new hypocrisy. Please if there was a way for BDS folk to avoid computers, medical technology, modern irrigation and a thousand other things that flow from Israel, I would love to be able to enforce it.

  13. Bob Says:

    I completely agree with Prog Zionist and Mira.

    There may well be conflicting and confused motivations for the food labelling directive, and it will be used differently by different consumers.

    The only sense in which it will strengthen the BDS movement is that it will make it possible to boycott goods produced in the settlements. While (most) Engageniks may not support such a boycott, few can really be that upset by it. The directive will not make it easier to boycott Israeli goods in general.

    More importantly, it makes possible a positive choice to purchase Palestinian produce. Part of the Engage ethos (and this is why it is called “Engage”) is that those who genuinely support peace and justice need to positively engage with Palestinians, rather than attack Israel. The BDS folk, as Mira often points out, are not pro-Palestinian; they are anti-Israeli. And that is why they have not been especially vocal in support of the new labelling.

  14. Gaby Charing Says:

    I am going to say one more thing, and then hold my peace! It is probably fair to say that the new DEFRA guidelines won’t make a huge amount of difference to what goods are on sale in UK shops. The sole reason we are discussing it here is because Engage has put up not one, but two posts, arguing that we should welcome the guidelines rather than see them as a bad thing. Given who was behind the pressure on DEFRA (and no, Brian, not everything that Phyllis Starkey says is wrong, but it is reasonable to be mistrustful of her motives), that seems to me rather strange. Was it important to you to distance yourselves from the Board of Deputies? The strong reaction to the two posts from me and some others is probably because we just don’t understand what you were aiming to do. All very rum.

  15. Absolute Observer Says:

    What is it with Engage and the BoD?

    On the one hand, Engage is accused of being “lackeys” of the BoD (I paraphrase) – often by those deluded enough to have endowed them with an almost mythical omnipotent power to silence all and any debate within the “Jewish community – then someone else wonders if Engage thinks it is “important to distance itself from the BoD” as if the BoD constitutes some sort of point of reference for Engage?

    Well, the fact of the matter is sometimes, people who broadly share Engage’s ethos agree with the BoD, sometimes, they don’t agree with the BoD, and sometimes they kinda agree and kinda disagree, and some have no idea what the BoD is or what they are saying about anything in particular.

    But, whatever position it takes, the BoD is not its north star from which Engage plots its own course (assuming it is the north star that sailors use as their basic point of navigation, but the point should be clear anyway).

    The BoD is not the centre of Engage’s universe. And, here’s why,

  16. Progressive Zionist Says:

    @ Gaby and Ab Ob: Please note that the Board of Deputies was not mentioned in the above article.

  17. Absolute Observer Says:

    “@ Gaby and Ab Ob: Please note that the Board of Deputies was not mentioned in the above article.”

    My very point.


    […] moves to outlaw such boycotts. Neither in fact am I strongly opposed to such products being labelledmore clearly .  But although the Ahava campaign might seem limited and acceptable, the overall BDS […]

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