Research Note: NGO Involvement in US Product Labeling "Reminder"
On January 26, 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a statement reiterating U.S. “country of origin” regulations for goods produced in the West Bank and Gaza. According to U.S. policy adopted in 1995, yet unenforced until restated in this announcement, these products should be labeled “West Bank/Gaza” or variations to that effect, and should not be listed as originating in Israel.
The context of this unusual statement includes the highly controversial Europe Union product labeling “interpretative note” for items produced in Jewish settlements (including the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem). In response, the US State Department declared support for the EU move, which the Israeli government denounced as a prelude to discriminatory boycotts. The original purpose of the 1995 regulation was to encourage Palestinian business and exports, avoid confusion between Palestinian and Israeli products, and was not intended to “label” or penalize goods produced in Jewish settlements.
In the process preceding the January 26 reiteration of the US “country of origin” statement, we note the lobbying activities of a number of anti-Israel political NGOs on this issue. These include Human Rights Watch, as well as core BDS groups such as Codepink and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
- On January 19, HRW published “Occupation Inc.” a 162 page report calling for businesses to cease operations in Israeli West Bank settlements. In the document and accompanying publicity campaign, HRW references the 1995 regulations: “Since 1995, United States customs regulations have required goods originating in the West Bank and Gaza to be labeled as such – and specifically prohibit them from being labeled as made in Israel.” (HRW omits the context of the Oslo process, and the purposes of the regulation.)
- In the executive summary, HRW pointedly claimed that “US customs officials have not been enforcing these regulations for goods originating in Israeli settlements.”
- Similarly, HRW’s “Israel/Palestine” director, Sari Bashi tweeted “US law requires labeling Israeli settlement products. Why doesn’t @CustomsBorder enforce it?”
- It should be noted that Tom Malinowski, a long-time HRW employee, is currently the State Department’s Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
- On December 23, 2015, “U.S. Campaign’s” policy director, Josh Ruebner, wrote on the website The Hill that “ensuring that Customs enforces U.S. law and prohibits Israeli settlement products from being fraudulently marketed to U.S. consumers as ‘Made in Israel’ is an important and necessary step to put teeth behind five decades of rhetorical yet feckless U.S. opposition to Israel’s illegal settlements.”
- The BDS group Codepink is linked to these lobbying efforts and appears to have aided HRW in preparing their publication. “Occupation Inc.” targets specific businesses, including the real estate company RE/MAX, the focus of a Codepink BDS campaign. In this section, the document relies on materials that were not previously published in full and were apparently obtained directly from Codepink.