France Should Be Ashamed of Labeling Products Made By Jews

Boycott Israel protest in Paris
People take part in a pro-Palestinian demonstration on October 10, 2015 in Paris, calling for a boycott of Israel. France has moved to label Israeli products made in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Matthieu Alexandre/AFP/Getty

To its credit, France is one of the first countries in Europe to ban economic boycotts of Israel. To its shame, France is the first European country to implement a 2015 European Union decision to label Israeli products from Judea and Samaria—the West Bank—and the Golan Heights.

Who, besides France’s Jewish community—already diminished by the sharp rise in anti-Semitism in the country—will buy products labelled “Made in an Israeli Settlement”? Who is the French government fooling when it says that it is against any boycott of Israel and then acts to facilitate one?

Such a policy is viewed by the vast majority of Israelis as highly prejudicial if not anti-Semitic. There are 200 territorial disputes in the world today, and France has singled out one of them—Israel’s with the Palestinians—for special treatment. There is no French labelling of Chinese goods from Tibet or Moroccan goods from Western Sahara. And in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, France labels products from only one party—the Jews.

Most indefensibly, France regards the Golan Heights, where there is not a single Palestinian, as occupied territory. Occupied from what country, one might ask? Syria, which lost the Golan to Israel nearly 50 years ago after twice using the area to wage genocidal wars against the Jewish State, no longer exists. To who would France want Israel to return the Golan—to ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, or Bashar al-Assad?

Though intended to punish Israel, France’s labelling decision seriously harms the many thousands of Palestinian and Golan Druze who work in Israeli companies. The move also rewards the Palestinian Authority for refusing to negotiate directly with Israel for almost eight years now and for seeking unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state without giving Israel peace. It rewards the Palestinians for rejecting two Israeli offers of statehood—in 2000 and 2008—in Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and half of Jerusalem. The French decision places an unelected and far from corruption-free Palestinian leadership ahead of the Middle East’s only functioning democracy.

For Israelis, as well as many Jews worldwide, France’s labelling decision cannot be viewed in isolation from French history. From the Dreyfus trial at the end of the 19th century, to Vichy’s anti-Jewish laws 50 years later, France has much to atone for in its relations with Jews. During World War II, French Jews were prohibited from serving in the army or working as doctors, lawyers, journalists, or state officials. Jewish students were expelled from schools and banned from commerce and industry. The French government and police participated in the roundup of 75,000 Jews, almost all of whom were murdered by the Nazis.

Does the France that once extended these racist laws to the North African countries—Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia—under its control really want to inflict damage on Jews living in areas they consider part of their ancestral homeland? Does the France that once mandated the registration of Jewish businesses and made Jews wear the yellow star now intend to mark Jewish-made goods?

As a sovereign state, France of course has the right to express its opposition to another state’s policies. But as an ally of Israel which wishes to advance, rather than impede, the peace process, and to disassociate itself from former atrocities, France must find other means than labelling Israeli products. Such actions may appeal to a sense of self-righteousness or satisfy certain parts of public opinion, but they will only prevent France from playing any serious role in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. In the end, France will be negatively labelled, not Israel.

Israel is also a sovereign state, and one with an especially painful past. We have survived many other boycotts, formal and implicit, and thrived. Still, we have the right and the duty to defend ourselves from unjust practices, even when adopted by our friends. Israelis should not boycott French products, but we should certainly think twice before buying them. Or perhaps we should just label them with a sticker stating: “Made in a country that singles out Jewish goods”?

Michael Oren is Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy in the Prime Minister’s Office, and a Member of Knesset from the Kulanu Party.