The publication of the EU’s product labeling guidelines (November 2015) marked a major step in the pressure directed towards Israel, in the wider context of the BDS campaign. Highly politicized non-governmental organizations (NGOs), many of which are deeply involved in BDS and working against two-state peace models (official EU policy), played a central role in this decision.

As documented below, these NGOs and their allies, including members of European Parliament and other officials, consider labeling guidelines as a prelude to additional steps designed to penalize and “punish” Israel. The NGO pressure and impact can be seen through publications such as “Trading Away Peace,” produced by 22 major European NGOs in 2012, and “EU Differentiation and Israeli Settlements” from the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR) in July 2015. These publications advanced a BDS agenda, and called on the EU and national governments to put pressure on Israel through various forms of economic sanctions, beginning with product labeling.

Not coincidentally, many of the 22 NGOs behind “Trading Away Peace,” as well as the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP – the source for many of the allegations), ECFR, and other pressure groups and lobbies, are funded by the EU and member states (see Appendix for details). These NGOs focus narrowly on Israel, and do not address other conflict regions or promote economic measures, such as product labeling, in any other cases. (On the double standards and discriminatory nature of EU policies on Israel, see E. Kontorovich, “Economic Dealings with Occupied Territories,” Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, Volume 53:3 [2015].)

In order to understand the EU policy making process on this issue and anticipate future measures, it is necessary to examine the role of influential political NGOs and their links to the EU.


Comparing NGO and EU Product Labeling Language

Officially, the EU claims that the objective of product labeling is “effective implementation of existing legislation” for the purposes of “consumer protection.” Products that require a label of origin (cosmetics and foodstuffs) must be presented in a manner that is “correct and not misleading.”

This EU text closely follows the NGO publication, “Trading Away Peace” (2012):

1) EU text: “In accordance with EU consumer protection legislation, indication of origin becomes mandatory when the omission of that information would mislead the consumer as to the true origin of the product or when such omission causes or is likely to cause the average consumer to take a transactional decision that he would not have taken otherwise.” (emphasis added)

NGO text (p.28): “[EU legislation] prohibits the provision of false, deceptive or potentially misleading information where it can cause the average consumer to make a choice he or she would not have made otherwise. Similarly, the Directive prohibits the omission of material information which the average consumer needs to make an informed choice.” (emphasis added)

2) The EU guidelines also closely match the recommendations of “Trading Away Peace” regarding the wording of the labels.

EU text: “For products from West Bank or the Golan Heights that originate from settlements, an indication limited to ‘product from Golan Heights’ or ‘product from West Bank’ would not be acceptable. In such cases, the expression ‘Israeli settlement’ or equivalent needs to be added, in brackets, for example.”  (emphasis added)

NGO text (p.28): “Where a settlement product is labelled ‘Product of the West Bank,’ this too can be considered misleading information. Although the settlements are factually located in the West Bank, it can be argued that the average, reasonably well-informed consumer needs to be able to distinguish between products legitimately made by Palestinian producers living under occupation and products of Israeli illegal settlements ….” (emphasis added)

Similarly, EU policy also echoes the ECFR document:

3) EU text: “effective implementation of existing legislation”.

NGO text (p.2): “deepened and expanded in order to bring the EU’s day-to-day policies consistently in line with its own legislation and principles.” (emphasis added)

Looking Forward: NGO Strategy and EU Policy

Based on the close parallels between NGO lobbying and EU actions, product labeling should be seen as a first step leading to boycotts in various forms, despite EU claims that it does “not support any form of boycott or sanctions against Israel.” and that it “does not intend to impose any boycott on Israeli exports from the settlements.”

The EU is already applying a limited boycott on poultry products from the Golan Heights by refusing to recognize Israeli veterinary approval beyond the Green Line. This is an example of the “effective implementation of existing legislation” justification turning into a boycott. In addition, large political parties in the European parliament have already supported the overall trend: A preliminary draft resolution from the S&D group, which was leaked and published online, described product labeling as part of a process leading “to a ban on these products should Israeli settlement construction activities continue.” (This phrasing was subsequently removed.)

NGO programs, as presented in “Trading Away Peace” and the ECFR’s “EU Differentiation and Israeli Settlements” include further measures, to punish and penalize Israel, also justified on ostensible “technical” justifications. These include discouraging private sector dealings with Israeli companies having any connections with “settlement” activities, banning imports from settlements altogether, and imposing a strict territorial clause on existing and future agreements between Israel and the EU.

According to “Trading Away Peace” (p.29):

“Permitting trade with settlements at all appears inconsistent with European governments’ recognition of their illegality and the fact that all production and manufacturing within the settlements involves further breaches of international law. Under Article 215 of the EU Treaty the EU could adopt ‘restrictive measures’ to ban the import of settlement products.” (emphasis added).

The cited treaty article is a general assertion of the EU’s right to adopt restrictive measures “against natural or legal persons and groups or non-State entities.” Neither the circumstances under which such a decision could be taken, nor the nature of these measures, are specified in the Treaty. This justification again reflects the highly discriminatory nature of the focus on Israel.

Like the NGOs behind “Trading Away Peace,” ECFR claims to dissociate its agenda from BDS: “Europe needs to put forward its own narrative on differentiation, distinguishing it from a boycott and countering the concerted campaign to misrepresent, distort, and sometimes simply prejudice European actions” (p.9).

However, the proposed future measures are entirely consistent with BDS, calling for broad sanctions on Israeli financial and other institutions via a “more rigorous application of differentiation” in the following areas:

 “the integration of the European and Israeli financial sectors, given the role of Israeli banks in supplying capital and services to settlements; the charitable status within the EU of organisations that support Israel’s settlement enterprise; the validity within the EU of legal documents issued by Israeli authorities in the OPTs; EU interaction with Israeli state authorities based in occupied East Jerusalem; and the implications for dual EU-Israeli nationals of residing or conducting activities in the OPTs.” (p.10)

If implemented by the EU, these sanctions will indeed constitute BDS – they target Israel’s major banks, telecommunication companies, any sector using materials from the “settlements” in production, and individuals holding dual EU-Israeli citizenship.

ECFR activists and officials have focused on punishing Israelis and exacting costs in order to force policy changes. Daniel Levy, who heads the MENA division, has referred to BDS as “a legitimate and non-violent form of protest against an illegal and inhumane policy of occupation”, adding that the proposition “that Israel will only respond to disincentives, that the occupation cease to be cost-free” is “worth testing.”

In addition, Hugh Lovatt, ECFR’s Programme Coordinator for Middle-East (Israel/Palestine and Mashreq) and co-author of “EU Differentiation and Israeli Settlements,” called for additional measures to punish and impose “real financial consequences for average Israelis who remain ambivalent about Israel’s settlement project.” Lovatt also retweeted the message of leading BDS activist Ali Abunimah, saying: “For boycott purposes, Israel insists we treat goods from ‘Israel’ same as those from West Bank colonies. I agree!”

NGO Bias and EU Policies

A number of the 22 NGO signatories to “Trading Away Peace” work closely with partners and/or fund other NGOs that are among the leaders of BDS and other campaigns of demonization. FIDH (the International Federation of Human Rights, based in France) partners include Adalah, Al-Haq, Al-Mezan, and PCATI. Following the publication of labeling guidelines, FIDH, together with Al-Haq, published an open letter to the EU urging the EU to not only ban imports from the settlements, as “Trading Away Peace” advocates, but also to suspend the Israel-EU Association Agreement and to “take the position that the escalation of violence is a direct result of the occupation and Israeli practices and policies aimed at suppressing and displacing the occupied Palestinian population whilst annexing its land.”

In addition, Badil, an NGO very active in advocating BDS, partners with the signatories Trocaire, Diakonia, DanChurchAid and Norwegian People’s Aid. Diakonia and DanChurchAid are also members of APRODEV (Sweden), another signatory. Badil accuses Israel of “slow genocide” and regularly issues posters and caricatures demonizing Israel, some of which are virulently antisemitic.
Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), an organization dedicated solely to the Palestinian issue, is also a signatory to “Trading Away Peace.” In addition to supporting BDS, two of MAP’s 2014 “Gaza relief partners” are the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health (MoH) and IDEALS, an NGO funded by Interpal, which the United States has designated as a terrorist entity. MAP founder and honorary patron Dr. Swee Ang has promoted a blatantly antisemitic video by American white supremacist David Duke.

Regarding ECFR, the co-authors of “EU Differentiation and Israeli Settlements” also have a long history of bias and political activism that contrasts sharply with EU policies, values, and principles. In June 2014, following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, Lovatt stated that the “killing of the young settlers is a symptom of deeper issues caused by Israel’s policy of occupation.” His social media activities reflect an affinity to Electronic intifada, Al- Shabaka, and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). Daniel Levy is a trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), which funds pro-BDS groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

NGO Monitor Recommendations

  • The EU should immediately implement transparency regarding all NGO grants originating from EU funds, including releasing all documentation related to decision-making and evaluations, as well as the involvement of partner organizations. Funding mechanisms should make proposed grants public at least 60 days prior to any transfer of funds (pre-notification) in order to allow for submission of relevant materials and for public discussion and consideration by the European Parliament.
  • Dedicated and independent supervisory mechanisms, particularly a parliamentary oversight committee, should be established to review and evaluate all NGO grants and ensure due diligence.
  • EU government funding frameworks should ensure that NGO grantees comply with all relevant funding transparency laws and regulations.
  • All funding frameworks should reevaluate guidelines and direct their funding to projects and organizations that actually promote the EU’s stated objectives.
  • The EU should make public all consultations with civil society, publishing detailed protocols, so that the role of civil society in EU decision-making is rendered transparent to the public.