EU Priorities: How to Label Israeli Cucumbers

Forty years ago, on November 10, 1975, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 by a vote of 72 to 35, with 32 abstentions, determining that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”  The resolution called on all nations to oppose “this racist and imperialist ideology,” which those voting in favor considered a threat to world peace and security.

Because the vote was taken, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then U.S. ambassador to the U.N., warned that the United Nations was about to make anti-Semitism into international law, and that it was loosing a great evil on the world.  To all sensible observers, the resolution was based on hatred, arrogance, and anti-Semitism.

To a large extent, it was President George H.W. Bush who propelled action and personally introduced the resolution to revoke Resolution 3379.  He held that to equate Zionism with the intolerable sin of racism was to twist history and to reject Israel itself.  The United Nations could not claim to seek peace and at the same time challenge Israel’s right to exist.  On December 16, 1991, the U.N. General Assembly passed Resolution 46/86 by a vote of 111 to 25, with 13 abstentions, in a simple and unenthusiastic statement.  It decided to “revoke the determination contained in its Resolution 3379 of November 10, 1975.”

It is ironic that in the same week as the 40th anniversary of the infamous U.N. resolution, the 28-member European Union should issue its own form of discrimination against Israel.  After years of deliberation, the EU has been unable to decide on a common policy to deal with the hundreds of thousands of Muslim migrants entering the countries of the EU, or on any quota to be allotted to the different member countries, or indeed on any foreign policy issue except Israel.

The EU was able to decide, on November 11, 2015, on an issue apparently more important than war or mass migration – namely, the issue of guidelines for the labeling of products coming from Israeli settlements in the West Bank, what it calls territories captured and occupied since June 1967.  The settlements must clearly label products as coming from them, not “Made in Israel.”  The EU asserted that it was their duty to inform European customers fully about the geographic origin of products so that buyers could make informed decisions.

This form of labeling of Israeli cucumbers is apparently more vital and more urgent than any contribution by EU countries to confronting the growing threat of Islamist terrorism to Europe, or other territorial disputes, let alone any attempt to stop the flow of Palestinian terrorism in Jerusalem and other cities.  

The labeling will largely be on fruits and vegetables – in effect, less than 1 percent of all trade from Israel to the EU.  What is the point?  Israeli settlements in the West Bank account for only 1.5 percent of Israel’s exports of goods and services to the EU, which in total now amount to $13 billion a year.  Israel’s exports to the EU have in fact grown 50 percent since 2005.

The EU had already taken prejudicial action against Israel in at least two ways.  It excluded products from the settlements from the customs exemptions that Israel had as an EU trading partner.  It also held in July 2013 that organizations in the settlements were not eligible for EU grants, funding, prizes, or scholarships.  This directive covers science, academia, economics, culture, and sports.  Both actions stemmed from the decision of foreign ministers of the EU that all Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.

The reality is that this labeling process is not an economic policy, but a way to exert political pressure on Israel.  The essential if unspoken question is whether this labeling, akin to the yellow badge of Nazi days, is a form of anti-Semitism, since it might lead to a move to boycott the whole State of Israel, preliminary to the elimination of the state.  It is difficult to see how the labeling can contribute to a peace dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

The EU did state that the labeling was not part of any plan for a complete boycott of goods from the settlements or from Israel.  However, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator who never negotiates and is now the PLO secretary general, wrote more menacingly that the labeling was a significant move toward a total boycott of Israeli settlements.  The Palestinian BDS movement heralded the EU action as a welcome sign that the EU was reacting to “Israeli intransigence.”

Unfortunately for both the proponents, Palestinians and others, of the BDS movement, and the decision makers of the EU, their bias and prejudice were made clear by Boris Johnson, the mayor of London since 2008 and a Conservative member of Parliament, who was visiting Israel.  Johnson, born in New York of British parents, is renowned as a flamboyant, witty, charismatic individual, famed for his skepticism of the value of the European Union.

In Tel Aviv on November 9, 2015, Johnson, who was paradoxically taking part in a Middle East trade mission, spoke of boycotters of Israel in a derogatory fashion.  His words should be repeated in the halls of the EU and elsewhere: “I cannot think of anything more foolish than to say you want to have any kind of divestments or sanctions or boycott against a country that is … the only democracy in the region … the only place that has, in my view, a pluralist, open society. “

Johnson might implicitly have been speaking to the foolish 343 British academics who last week wrote in the Guardian paper supporting a boycott of Israel.  The supporters of this “so called boycott are really just a bunch of corduroy-jacketed lefty academics who have no real standing in the matter.”

As a result of making this forthright statement, Johnson was forced to cancel a series of meetings with Palestinians, partly because of fears of security and partly because Palestinian groups themselves canceled invitations because of his remarks.

What better indication of the difficulty of making peace can there be?  Consider the crucial difference between Israel, an open society, and Palestinians, who refuse to discuss anything with anyone who has a difference of opinion with them.  How can Palestinians be prepared to enter into free, peaceful negotiations?

Another factor is the revelation that leftists in academia and in the media, politicians, charity organizations, and those interested in human rights buttress the Palestinian Narrative of Victimhood, a device that allows them to avoid peaceful negotiations with Israel.

Mayor Johnson was wrong on one point of his description of academics, since they rarely, if ever, wear corduroys these days, but he was not wrong in his assessment of these academics and cultural personalities, who have no real standing and whose real attitude may border on or have a touch of anti-Semitism.

All supporters of boycott of Israel might profit from attending to Johnson’s words.  A good British Conservative, the mayor remarked that there is something Churchillian about the country that Churchill helped to create.  In Israel there is the audacity, the bravery, the willingness to take risks with feats of outrageous derring-do.  Boycotters of Israel are not brave or audacious, nor do they take risks in urging Palestinians to come to the negotiating table.