Is Dutch foreign minister lying about Israeli settlements deal?

A Dutch government-backed promotion at a Shufersal store in Pisgat Zeev settlement in the occupied West Bank, on 17 November, two days after Dutch foreign minister Halbe Zijlstra told parliament the promotion was not taking place in settlements.

The Dutch foreign minister has misled parliament about a deal between his country’s embassy in Tel Aviv and an Israeli supermarket chain that operates in settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In partnership with the Netherlands embassy, Israel’s Shufersal chain is running a month-long promotion of Dutch products in its stores.

The partnership violates long-standing Dutch government policy against supporting business in or with Israeli settlements, all of which are illegal under international law.

Foreign minister Halbe Zijlstra claimed that the promotion is not taking place in Shufersal stores in West Bank settlements.

In response to questions from lawmakers on 15 November, Zijlstra acknowledged that Shufersal “has branches in Israel as well as branches in the West Bank, in Palestinian territory.”

He stated: “The Dutch embassy was very careful. The activities that it undertook were only focused on the supermarkets in Israel.”

Zijlstra also reiterated the longstanding government policy of “discouraging” Dutch companies from working in occupied territories.

But what Zijlstra said simply isn’t true.

False statement

Last week, The Electronic Intifada published a photo showing that the Dutch food promotion is taking place at the Shufersal Deal store at 17 Tzvia ve Yitzhak Street in the Gilo settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Photos taken by an Israeli citizen show the Dutch promotion displayed all over the store, including signs confirming that the initiative is “in partnership with the Netherlands embassy.”

For further confirmation, The Electronic Intifada asked the same Israeli citizen to visit another Shufersal store in a different settlement to see if the Dutch government-backed promotion was going on there too.

On 17 November, the citizen visited the Shufersal store at 106 Moshe Dayan Street in the Pisgat Zeev settlement and photographed evidence that the promotion is going on – again directly contradicting the Dutch foreign minister’s statement to parliament.

Two of those photos are published with this article.

Violating own policy

Earlier this month, Zijlstra told lawmakers that the government “does not provide services to Dutch companies when it comes to activities that they develop in or for the benefit of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.”

A Dutch government-backed promotion in a Shufersal store in Pisgat Zeev settlement in the occupied West Bank, on 17 November, two days after Dutch foreign minister Halbe Zijlstra told parliament the promotion was not taking place in settlements.

Yet the Dutch embassy’s arrangement with Shufersal blatantly violates this policy by directly assisting a number of Dutch firms to promote their goods in settlements and therefore to profit from trade there.

These companies include well-known Dutch brands such as Calvé, Gouda’s Glorie, Vos Banket, Merba, De Ruijter, Buiteman, Jeurgens and Daelmans, which makes stroopwafels, a syrup-filled cookie that has been aggressively marketed in the US in recent years.

And no less significant, the Dutch government is lending its name and legitimacy to Shufersal, which is among more than 100 firms likely to appear on a UN list of companies doing business in Israeli settlements.

Palestinians have hailed the list, whose creation was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, as the first concrete step to hold Israel accountable for its settler-colonization of the occupied West Bank, which Israel has carried on for decades with impunity.

There is a growing consensus among international jurists and human rights organizations that business and trade in and with Israeli settlements must be ended because it sustains Israel’s occupation and illegal colonization and enables serious crimes against Palestinians.

While there is no doubt Zijlstra gave false information to parliament, what remains unclear is whether he did so knowingly – meaning he lied – or whether he was provided with false information by other Dutch officials, or by Shufersal.

In any case, there can be no possible excuse for Dutch official complicity and support for Israel’s settlements.

The Dutch foreign ministry was presented with the evidence contained in this article but has yet to provide an explanation.

Adri Nieuwhof contributed research and translation.