On Wednesday, 2 December 2015, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) held a symposium at the European Parliament in Brussels, titled The Economic Wall of the EU Labelling Move hosted by MEP Takkula (ALDE, FI) and MEP Belder (ECR, NL). Main speakers included renowned international legal expert, Prof. Avi Bell, Greek Orthodox priest and founder of the Israeli Christian Empowerment Council (ICRF), Father Gabriel Naddaf, and the Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands, Binyomin Jacobs.
MEP Hannu Takkula opened the first session of the symposium, expressing his concerns that the labelling guidelines will have enormous impacts for the EU and Israel relations. Until now, we have been creating a good base for co-operation between EU and Israel but this labelling move will not only harm the economic relations, but also will have an unfortunate impact on the co-operation in every field.
MEP Bas Belder (ECR, NL) noted the mutual high concern by colleague MEPs about the ineffective recent EU labelling move and how it damages EU-Israel relations as well as any prospects for the Middle East peace process. Which the EU is so naively forcing to restart. The labelling move will certainly not help. Its counter-productive, remarked Belder. He furthermore stressed: the labelling measure will hit Palestinian workers and their family the most. Therefore, I view the European move as anti-Palestinian!
A statement by Dr. Jürgen Bühler, Executive Director of ICEJ, was presented which noted that the EU interpretative notice will only divide Israelis and Palestinians further and hurt those it claims to help. Despite EU efforts to downplay the political nature of the labelling move, it is clear that the guidelines have been formulated to apply pressure on Israelis and they violate the rules of the World Trade Organisation, said Dr. Bühler ahead of the symposium.
Prof. Avi Bell clarified how the Commissions interpretative notice violates international law. While the interpretive notice restricts labels on Israeli products, EU law permits Taiwan and the Palestinian Authority to market products in the EU with made in Taiwan and made in Palestine labels that contradict EU views on sovereignty, according to which neither is an independent state. Indeed, the same interpretive notice which claims that European consumers will be misled by made in Israel labels on Israeli products from Israeli businesses in the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, will not be misled by made in Palestine labels on identical products made by their Arab neighbours in the Christian quarter of the Old City.
Father Gabriel Naddaf spoke strongly against the labelling, emphasizing the inevitable harmful outcome: "As a Christian leader, raised in Nazereth, living among the Arab Muslims, I tell you clearly: this decision affects Muslims, Christians, Druze and all other minority citizens of Israel, not just the Jews. This labelling of Israeli products is a further betrayal of Christian values in Europe, and it further weakens the Christian spirit in Europe." Father Naddaf called the move to label Israeli goods a racist, anti-Semitic decision.
Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands, Binyomin Jacobs pointed at the tensions that the recent EU move has created within Europe, with Hungary and Merkels party opposing it. Negativity and hostility always work both ways internally as well as externally, Jacobs noted.
MEP Takkula added: As a member of the WTO, we should follow the equal treatment rule among all of our trade partners. The interpretation we are now guided to follow doesn't fulfil this requirement. MEP Takkula hopes that Member States of the European union will not make the situation worse with more strict interpretation, but will do their share to help the market gain access to the Palestinian products. MEP Belder stressed that Israel and the EU equally benefit from the cooperation in security, trade and science and technology sectors just to name a few. The wide array of relations we share with the Jewish State are essential to Europe.