17 Smith Square
London SW1P 3JR
Dear Hilary Benn
The Zionist Federation was very disturbed to see the ‘labelling’ advice released by DEFRA on 10 December. I set out below six reasons why the advice is misplaced.
First, you are singling out Israel . There are many other conflict areas in the world, for which DEFRA has not advised separate labelling, eg Tibet, Kashmir, Northern Cyprus, Chechnya, Kosovo, parts of Bosnia or even places like Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and Northern Ireland.
Second, your advice is non-communitaire. The EC has rules on labelling and we fail to see why the UK feels it necessary to unilaterally add to them.
Third, there has been a complete lack of consultation with organisations in the UK which support Israel . On Tuesday 31 March the Prime Minister chaired a “Round Table” on the subject of labelling. Representatives of the supermarkets were there as well as an observer from OXFAM even though that charity has disseminated untruths about Israel . No Israel-based organisation – such as the ZF - was invited. Further, this DEFRA advice was put out without a consultation.
Fourth, your advice says “Israeli settlements in the OPT are unlawful under international law. They contravene Article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its own civilian population into occupied territory.” That is simply not true. The government of the United States for one does not hold that the settlements are unlawful. Article 49 (6) says “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Taken together with the use of the word ‘forcible’ in the sentence at the start of the same paragraph (“Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive”) it is clear that it is forcible transfer into occupied territory which is wrong. This interpretation is underlined by the historic context of the Convention which was drafted after World War Two and was intended to prevent a repeat of the forcible population transfers carried out by Germany and Russia . None of the settlers has been 'forced' to move to the West Bank. All have moved of their own free will.
Fifth, in the aftermath of the Gaza operation one year ago and with the TUC calling for a ban on the import of settlement goods, your advice will only fuel pressure for a boycott of Israeli goods. We reject completely the logic for this since Israel has every right to defend itself and as stated by Colonel Richard Kemp “the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
Sixth, there are 30,000 Palestinian workers in the settlements. If this advice leads to reduced purchases of goods from settlements, it will be harmful for them.
I look forward to your early response and hope that on further consideration you will withdraw this advice.
Chairman, Zionist Federation