Israel has been struck a massive blow by the European Union's top court which today ruled that EU countries must identify with special labels products made in Israeli settlements. All of Israel's settlements are illegal under international law.
In a statement granting consumers the right to boycott goods produced in the settlements, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) insisted that labelling must provide an "indication of that provenance" so that consumers can make "informed choices" when they shop. The decision of the Luxembourg-based court comes as a huge boost to the global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and undermines Israel's claim that labelling products is unfair and discriminatory.
The case came to court after an Israeli winery based in a settlement near Jerusalem contested France's application of a previous ECJ ruling on such labelling. That ruling backed the use of origin identifying tags but did not make their use legally binding.
With Europe's top court going one-step further by prescribing labelling after the challenge by an Israeli company wanting to overturn international laws and conventions, the verdict will be seen as a rejection of Israel's policy of normalising annexation, which has been denounced by the EU and the international community.
In its statement, the ECJ affirmed another fundamental principal of international law which stipulates that the transfer of population to an occupied territory is illegal. Israel opposes this view despite the fact that the UN, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the International Committee of the Red Cross, the ECJ and virtually every country in the world has affirmed the principal on numerous occasions.
Underlining that settlements are indeed illegal, the ECJ said that the failure to label goods appropriately will "give concrete expression to a policy of population transfer conducted by that State outside its territory, in violation of the rules of general international humanitarian law."
The ECJ went on to stress the need to give consumers the choice to be able to boycott goods produced in settlements. "Consumers have no way of knowing, in the absence of any information capable of enlightening them in that respect, that a foodstuff comes from a locality or a set of localities constituting a settlement established in one of those territories in breach of the rules of international humanitarian law."
The ruling was welcome by Human Rights Watch. The watchdog's EU Director, Lotte Leicht, described it as "an important step" toward EU member states upholding their duty not to participate in the "fiction" that illegal settlements are part of Israel. "European consumers are entitled to be confident that the products they purchase are not linked to serious violations of international humanitarian law."
It is not clear how the new ruling will be enforced. While the EU had previously urged that goods from illegal settlement should be labelled appropriately, Israel nevertheless managed to bypass European laws and profit from the preferential trade tariff granted to Tel Aviv.
The EU has admitted that it had become "impossible" to monitor the source of goods imported to Europe from Israel. This was despite a legal obligation to implement a policy of differentiating between Israel and illegal settlement activities which make up the EU's multibillion-Euro bilateral trade with the Zionist state.