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Pro-Israel lobby forces France to stop labelling settlement products

Members of the BDS France team [Twitter]

France will no longer label products produced in illegal Israeli settlements after it was sued by a pro-Israel think tank for “discrimination”.

The decision was taken this week after pro-Israel think tank the Lawfare Project emerged victorious in legal action is initiated against the French government back in May. The think tank had filed the suit on behalf of Psagot Winery, an Israeli vineyard situated east of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. This then prompted the Council of State, the French government’s legal adviser, to ask the European Court of Justice for its opinion on the legal status of labelling products from the illegal settlements, the Times of Israel reported.

The move backtracks on a decision taken by the French government in 2016 to label any products grown or produced in illegal Israeli settlements with the word “colonies”, meaning “settlements” in French. In 2015, the European Commission ruled that products being sold to EU member states must be explicitly labelled as coming from the illegal settlements, but “the commission has no recourse against countries that do not apply the regulations,” the Times of Israel added.

France: Parliament adopts a symbolic resolution calling on the French government to recognize the state of Palestine – Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

Amnesty International decried the French government’s decision, saying in a statement: “Instead of complying with the request to end imports [from the West Bank], the government has chosen to roll back and suspend the demand for labeling.”

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The think tank behind the move, the Lawfare Project, is an American organisation which describes itself as dedicated to “defending the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and pro-Israel community.” Its website boasts of “[forcing] Kuwait Airways to terminate half of its US operations and all inter-European flight routes due to its practice of discriminating against Israeli passport-holders” and “[stopping] corporations from implementing BDS practices.”

The Lawfare Project has also worked to further its agenda on university campuses. In September a professor at the American University of Maryland, John Cheney-Lippold, refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student wishing to study in Israel. Cheney-Lippold cited the university department’s decision to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as the reason for his refusal. The Lawfare Project subsequently called for Cheney-Lippold to be sanctioned “to the fullest extent of university policy” for alleged “discriminatory behaviour,” according to the Electronic Intifada.

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This is not the first time that pro-Israel lobby groups have forced a European government to overturn its decision by pursuing legal action. In Spain, pro-Israel organisation ACOM has pursued or threatened legal action against up to 35 municipal governments who previously declared their support for BDS. In September the latest Spanish municipality, Ayamonte, was forced to annul its previous decision to ban any association with Israeli companies or organisations after ACOM filed a legal suit with the district court to have the council’s resolution overturned.

France has a mixed relationship with the issue of Israel-Palestine. In September, French President Emmanuel Macron told the UN General Assembly: “What can resolve the crisis between Israel and Palestine? Not unilateral initiatives, nor trampling on the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to legitimate peace nor underestimating Israel’s fair right to security.” Macron’s statement was a clear rebuke of US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, which was condemned internationally for its disregard for international law. In August it emerged that Macron cancelled his planned trip to Israel for the second time and did not set a date for any future visit. No official reason for the decision was provided.

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However, despite these criticisms France has also undertaken a number of actions in support of Israel. In July, Israel and France held their first joint naval exercise for 55 years. Two Israeli warships took part in training exercises off Toulon, in the south of France, while a French ship also arrived in the port of Haifa, in the north of Israel. French firms have also participated in the construction of the Jerusalem light-rail, a project which is seen as normalisation of Israel’s annexation of the city since it was captured in the Six Day War of 1967.

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