It’s not often that members of Congress publicly disagree with, much less condemn, the European Union.
But when it comes to protecting Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, dozens of US lawmakers have shown no such compunction in doing so vociferously.
Even before the EU published its November 2015 guidelines requiring Israeli settlement products to be labeled as such, members of Congress went on the offensive in a preemptive bid to squash the EU initiative.
In no less than three separate letters to the EU’s foreign policy chief and to the US trade representative, members of Congress slammed the EU move as a “de-facto boycott of Israel” and accused it of implementing “restrictive and illegal trade measures.”
Last month, Representative Nita Lowey fired another salvo against the EU guidelines, introducing H.Res.567.
If passed, it would formally place the House of Representatives on record as opposing the EU’s labeling of Israeli settlement products.
Lowey, a New York Democrat and self-described “leading proponent of a strong US-Israel relationship,” is the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, making her a pivotal figuring in ensuring Israel’s annual earmark of more than $3 billion in taxpayer-funded weapons.
To date, the resolution has been co-sponsored by eight representatives.
So far more than 3,000 people have done so.
In a press release “denouncing” the EU move, Lowey made outlandish claims about the impact of the EU guidelines, which flew in the face of both the EU’s stated policy and the Palestinian BDS National Committee’s response to it.
Lowey counterintuitively claimed that labeling Israeli settlement products would “encourage and prompt consumers to boycott all Israeli goods,” even though in its guidelines, the EU explicitly renounced support for “any form of boycott or sanctions against Israel” and emphatically did not ban the actual importation of Israeli settlement goods.
Lowey also situated her resolution squarely within the mounting legislative backlash against the Palestinian civil society-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, a coordinated initiative at the local, state and federal levels to falsely stigmatize BDS activists as anti-Semites and impose costs on individuals, institutions and corporations which either support BDS or accede to the demands made by BDS campaigners.
She maintained that the EU’s decision “contributes to the deeply misguided anti-Israel” BDS movement, an assertion which Omar Barghouti, the cofounder of the BDS movement, found risible.
“Labeling the illegal products of Israeli colonies instead of banning them,” he wrote in Politico, “is seen by Palestinians as yet another EU failure to uphold European and international law.”
Out of sync
Perhaps even more extraordinary than Lowey’s claims about the impact of the EU’s guidelines is the degree to which H.Res.567 is out of sync even with US policy regarding Israeli settlement products.
For more than twenty years, it has been illegal for exporters of Israeli settlement goods to market their products to US consumers under the false pretense of being “Made in Israel.”
In April 1995, the US Customs Service issued a notice of policy proclaiming that settlement products “shall not” be labeled as having originated in Israel.
Customs also held that a failure by exporters of Israeli settlement products to label their goods as coming from the “West Bank” or “Gaza” (Israel dismantled its illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip ten years after this policy was introduced) would result in a 10 percent duty being imposed.
In other words, exporters of Israeli settlement products who try pass off their wares as being “Made in Israel” are supposed to be ineligible for duty-free entry to the US otherwise provided to Israeli products under the US-Israel Free Trade Agreement.
With US guidelines on Israeli settlement products being so similar to the recently adopted EU guidelines, apparently Lowey believes that what is good for the goose is not necessarily so for the gander.
Why would a member of Congress feel emboldened to condemn the EU for adopting a policy comparable to that of the United States?
Lowey’s office repeatedly did not answer this or other questions about her resolution for this article.
Lowey’s determination to exert pressure on the EU to reverse its labeling of Israeli settlement products – part of the spate of anti-BDS legislation that is sweeping the nation – bespeaks a certain desperation on the part of Israel’s supporters to squelch the BDS movement and the goals it is pursuing.
Legislators may believe they can arrest the grassroots BDS movement with top-down legislative fixes, but they are swimming against the historical tide.
Today’s press release from United Methodist Kairos Response, announcing the United Methodist Church’s divestment from Israeli banks, is an indication that the BDS movement will not be deterred by policy elites’ efforts to silence it.