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December 8, 2015 5:12 am

Israel Must Assert Itself — and Its Rights — Throughout the World

avatar by Judith Bergman

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EU flags in front of the European Commission building in Brussels. Photo: Amio Cajander via Wikimedia Commons.

EU flags in front of the European Commission building in Brussels. Photo: Amio Cajander via Wikimedia Commons.

There would be something very tasteless in Germany labeling Israeli goods, which is perhaps why Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said, after a meeting at a German foundation on Thursday marking 50 years of German-Israeli friendship, “Obviously, there is no question of Germany following this disastrous move.”

Edelstein should not be holding his breath. Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2008 declared Israel’s security to be a core state value and vowed to always stand by its side, that core value has clearly become much devalued since. This became abundantly clear when Merkel and her government decided to cheer on the infamous nuclear deal with Iran. Since then, the most senior representatives from her government and German industries have been busy visiting the mullahs in Teheran, drooling at the prospects of doing big business with one of the worst regimes in the world, which openly threatens Israel with annihilation.

If Merkel did nothing to oppose the Iran deal — which is much more threatening to Israel’s security than any European labeling could ever be — she will do very little to oppose European labeling of Israeli goods. At any rate, the opposing should have been done years ago, when the decision was made in the European Union, and not now after the fact. Merkel may have had the best intentions in 2008 — who knows — but she has certainly not followed up on them in practice since. Empty words and diplomatic niceties do not substitute genuine friendship.

Officially, Merkel’s government has not yet issued a public statement on product labeling, making it impossible to say at this point whether Germany will support it or not. Juergen Hardt, the foreign affairs spokesman for Merkel’s Christian Democrats in parliament, has criticized the measure, saying, “It is very likely that this measure will be exploited for campaigns that aim to direct hostility toward Israel.” But Germany’s Foreign Ministry has defended the move. In a recent email sent to the Jerusalem Post, it stated that all the EU wants is “only a clear designation of the origin of the products.”

Being one of the most influential EU states, it is inconceivable that the whole labeling procedure could ever have been decided upon without considerable backing from Germany. As early as June 2013, Israeli Army Radio cited an official German government document in which the German government stated its stance on the issue for the first time. The document was issued in response to queries by German opposition members. “In our view,” the document states, “products should be labeled ‘Made in Israel’ only if they are manufactured within the [pre-]1967 borders.”

So much for Germany opposing labeling Israeli goods.

Germany is supposed to be one of Israel’s best friends in the EU, which should be telling Israel something. While Hungary and Greece have announced that they will not label Israeli goods, for Israel to rely on the goodwill of European nations is foolhardy and misguided. Even if Israel were to convince more countries to abstain from the labeling, there are no guarantees that these countries will not succumb to internal European pressure, once the EU Commission announces more forcefully that it expects member states to follow the labeling procedures and that it will sanction those EU states who do not.

This is why Israel should not only be pursuing the diplomatic track, but use the means available for redressing the situation under international law, i.e. filing a lawsuit with the World Trade Organization. According to reports, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked are pushing to sue the European Union and currently exploring the option, while Foreign and Finance Ministry officials object.

The time for Israel to stand up for itself and not just talk came a very long time ago. One way for Israel to assert itself is to show the international community that it is capable of defending itself against the barrage of condemnations that it has been at the receiving end of for decades now. The EU labeling measure is a very concrete and dangerous kind of condemnation, however much the EU wishes to cloak it in “consumer” language.

While the Foreign and Finance Ministry officials are simply displaying an old habit of staying within the safe space of doing nothing out of fear of rocking the boat, this is not the way ahead. This strategy never worked in the past and it will not work now either. Proactive and forceful assertion of Israel’s rights wherever they are being crushed is the only strategy that will work. The EU labeling issue presents an excellent opportunity to put this to the test.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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