After months of heated debate over the European Union (EU) labeling products made in Judea and Samaria, the US is now quietly doing the same, but without the fuss or discussion.
The US Customs Department released a statement last Saturday reminding importers of a regulation from 1995 that goods produced in the West Bank must be labeled as such, and not labeled “Made in Israel”.
“Goods produced in the West Bank or Gaza Strip shall be marked as originating from ‘West Bank,’ ‘Gaza,’ ‘Gaza Strip,’ ‘West Bank/Gaza,’ ‘West Bank/Gaza Strip,’ ‘West Bank and Gaza,’ or ‘West Bank and Gaza Strip’. It is not acceptable to mark the aforementioned goods with the words ‘Israel,’ ‘Made in Israel,’ ‘Occupied Territories-Israel,’ or any variation thereof. Goods that are erroneously marked as products of Israel will be subject to an enforcement action carried out by US Customs and Border Protection,” the memo read.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner was asked at a press conference if this was intended as a rebuke to Israel for recent settlement expansion.
He responded that it was “simply a restatement of previous requirements” and does not “impose additional requirements”. He stressed that it was in no way a boycott.
It was pointed out that the policy had not been enforced in 20 years.
Toner claimed the decision to enforce it now came as a result of recent complaints, but he declined to specify where the complaints originated.
Toner was then asked if this was a move towards a universally stricter adherence to customs regulations and labeling, for example in the case of “Transnistrian products going to the US [labeled] as made in Russia”.
He responded that no changes were anticipated in regards to any other countries.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) told the Forward it doesn’t object to the reminder being issued.
“This long-standing Customs policy, in contrast to the actions of the European Union, was not intended to stigmatize Israeli products but to merely facilitate duty free access to the US market for Palestinian goods,” said AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittman. “It does not distinguish among manufacturers in the territories.”
This may be true, but the US policy carries a sting the EU policy does not. The EU policy does not bear a fine for non-compliance, but the US Customs policy carries a fine of 10% the value of the product, which the US Customs Department will presumably remember to begin enforcing.
It is true that this policy, passed through Congress and duly legislated, was a result of the Oslo Accords and as such, was welcomed by Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, but it is unwelcome by the Israelis in its new incarnation.
An Israeli official told YNet, “It is hard to believe that customs officials would randomly decide to publish a notice just because someone complained that guidelines are not being enforced. It’s convenient for them to present it as being a technical issue but in the US things never happen just by chance.”
He added that “under the guise of a technical notice the Americans are taking a political step. Israel will have to decide whether this is a technical reissuing of guidelines or a politically important directive.”