Government quells fears over boycott

A special meeting to discuss the guidelines for the labelling of products from the West Bank was held in the Cabinet Office on Tuesday.

It involved representatives of food retailers, producers and suppliers and the British Retail Consortium, alongside civil servants from the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Foreign Office, HM Revenue and Customs and one non-governmental organisation (NGO), Oxfam.

But it seemed that fears of a “back-door” boycott of Israeli goods through the labelling of products from the West Bank may have receded.

As the meeting had been deemed non-political, neither Israel nor the Palestinians were represented, nor was any Anglo-Jewish organisation.

The meeting discussed the issue of produce that appears under the name of Israel but is produced by West Bank settlements and which breaks a trade agreement between Israel and European Union.

The JC has been told that the meeting was held in response to questions raised by consumer groups and some NGOs.

It has now been agreed that draft guidelines on labelling will be drawn up and published by Defra but there is no specific time-frame. The guidelines will be voluntary and there is, apparently, no intention to introduce legislation.

Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “We hope that the government will reflect further on the consequences of singling out Israel in this manner and the very real danger of this policy encouraging those pressing for a full programme of anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions.”

A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium said: “We were there to hear what the government had to say and the kind of feedback from customers on this issue.”

He confirmed that much of the discussion centred on how to distinguish between West Bank produce from the settlements and Palestinians and what information could be put reasonably on a label.

He said that normally, country of origin labelling would concern processed and manufactured food, rather than fresh produce.

He could not recall the BRC being involved in anything previously involving Israel and was unaware of similar discussions involving any other country at the moment.

    Last updated: 9:40am, April 2 2009