Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at left-wing party Meretz this week for bill it proposed to label products made in Judea and Samaria.
Speaking about the impact of the international Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement on Israel’s economy at the start of a Likud party meeting Monday, Netanyahu said, “I was surprised to discover that one of the parties in Israel submitted a bill to mark products.”
The bill, which the party’s five Knesset members submitted last month, calls for an amendment to be inserted into the Law for Consumer Protection mandating that manufacturers state “the city or community where the product was made.”
The bill’s explanatory text, cited by The Times of Israel, makes its intentions clearer: “The community or city where a product was made has great importance regarding the quality of a product, the working conditions there, climate effects on production and the circumstances of production, including whether it is inside Israeli jurisdiction or in territory held by Israel by way of occupation,” it said.
In a statement to Walla news website, Meretz wrote, “The Israeli consumer has the right to know what the European consumer knows — if the product before him was manufactured in Israel or the West Bank.”
In the meeting, Netanyahu noted, “Israel is fighting back against attempts to boycott it in the international arena. I am encouraged that both the right and the left are uniting against the boycott, which targets our very existence and the IDF’s right to defend ourselves…
“I plan to ask that [Meretz] withdraw this bill. Like the poet Erez Biton said: ‘He who marks products will eventually mark people.’ This must stop now,” the prime minister was cited by Haaretz as saying.
Although Israel is currently struggling to convince the European Union not to legislate the labelling of Judea and Samaria products, Meretz charged in a statement responding to Netanyahu’s comments, it is “a simple fact that the Netanyahu government on its own (!) labels products exported to Europe and manufactured beyond the Green Line even today (!!), as part of its trade agreements with the European Union.” According to The Times of Israel, this may have been a reference to a 2005 agreement in which Israel reluctantly agreed to provide postal codes of manufacturers so those in Judea and Samaria could be identified by European authorities. Goods made in Israel are exempt from customs in the EU, but this does not apply to those manufactured in Judea and Samaria.
Science, Technology and Space Minister Danny Danon (Likud) rejected the Meretz bill, calling it “unacceptable”.
Speaking to Israel National News, Danon vowed to fight it. “We will not even discuss it. In my position in the Legislation Committee, I will not allow even a discussion of this issue. I call on the MKs from Meretz to take back this proposal. We don’t want to see it here in the Knesset,” he said.
“We are all aware of the boycotts that are coming from the outside, but to see MKs coming and saying to boycott products by Israeli citizens is a twisted notion and we will not let it happen,” Danon continued.
MK Sharon Gal (Yisrael Beytenu) also had sharp words for Meretz. “Meretz does not understand that we are at war. A party calling itself a Zionist party but behaves like the Arab party. Those who propose to label products will next propose to label people and that’s serious.”
“I call on Meretz, because we are at war and although they have no national responsibility, to withdraw the proposal,” added Gal, who wondered if Meretz would accept a similar bill requiring all Arab-made products be labelled as such.
Efrat Regional Council Chair Oded Ravivi slammed the move, saying it would backfire. He called on Meretz Wednesday to reconsider its position and withdraw the bill.
“The Meretz party decided to label 400,000 Israelis, all of them taxpayers, donating to the state in terms of culture and economy, and among them educators with international recognition, hi-tech developers, pioneers in the food industry, technology, members of the army standing on the front line, vineyards that won international prizes, and factories among the largest and newest in the Middle East,” Ravivi was quoted in Israel National News.
He went on to warn that the bill “will bring about an economic disaster for thousands of Palestinians and will hit us back like a boomerang; it will collapse Israeli families.” Currently, many Palestinian Arabs are employed by Jews in Judea and Samaria, and the proposed bill could severely curtail their source of income.
Ravivi continued, “This bill won’t bring us to peace, rather the opposite – it will lead us to anti-Semitism that is on the rise, it will lead us to distancing from the Palestinians who work shoulder to shoulder with their Jewish neighbors.”
Ravivi suggested that rather than punishing Israelis living in Judea and Samaria, they should be held up as a model for Arab-Israeli cooperation. “I invite Meretz head Zehava Gal-on to the Efrat Regional Council to see coexistence, to see how it is possible to live beyond the Green Line and be hosted by Palestinian neighbors, to live with respect and to give respect [to others],” he said.
Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Gal-on stood by her party’s proposal, calling out the prime minister instead. Speaking to Haaretz, she said, “Netanyahu must really be in trouble if he’s lashing out at Meretz, at this rate he will soon forbid drawing of the Green Line on maps.” She accused Netanyahu of trying to deflect criticism “by delegitimizing the left”.
“There is no way Meretz will withdraw the bill which just clarifies – for Israeli consumers – the distinction between products made in Israel and those made in the territories it captured 48 years ago.”
According to Gal-on, “If Netanyahu wants to cancel this distinction and the heavy price the settlements exact from Israel, he is more than welcome to begin negotiating a permanent agreement [with the Palestinians] and end the occupation. Until then, he will have to learn to live with the devastating ramifications of his policy.”