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Popular Israeli products
could be hit by boycott

Jewish Telegraphic Agency
11 April 2002

JERUSALEM - Ahava cosmetics are among the popular Israeli products that are at the heart of a growing dispute between Europe and the Jewish state.

Ahava products, which are sold in stores around the world, are produced in Mitzpeh Shalem, a West Bank settlement. Since they are not produced within Israel's pre-1967 borders, some European Union officials believe the cosmetics line is not covered by a free trade agreement that allows Israeli products to enter 15 E.U. countries without tariffs. The European Union now is threatening to impose tariffs on Israeli goods produced in eastern Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel staunchly disagrees, saying that the free-trade accord covers all Israeli products, and has charged the Europeans with seeking to use economic blackmail to weigh in on the stalled peace process. The Council of Ministers, the European Union's executive body, was originally scheduled to discuss the matter Monday, but postponed it until June 8.

The idea of targeting certain Israeli products did not originate in Europe. Last September, a newly formed group called Gush Shalom released a list of goods manufactured in the territories, as well as in eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, urging the public not to buy them. "Every shekel we pay for a settlement product strengthens the settlers and their radical leaders," Uri Avneri, a journalist and former Knesset member who founded Gush Shalom, said in an interview this week.

At first the boycott call was ignored in Israel. Then it became a target for attacks by settlers and their allies, which focused light on Gush Shalom's move. The boycott call spread through the Internet and received international attention. The call, however, has not yet hit home in Israel.

"I never realized that Barkan wine came from the West Bank," said Nava Mizrahi, who was shopping at a Jerusalem supermarket. In fact, many Israelis do not immediately realize that Modan bags, popular among travelers and schoolchildren, are produced in the West Bank settlement of Shaked or that Pladelet steel doors are made in the Barkan industrial area, located between the West Bank Palestinian towns of Kalkiliya and Nablus. Popular goods produced on the Golan include several leading wines, the Ramat Hagolan dairy products and Mai Eden mineral water.

While the settlers have not felt threatened by Gush Shalom, the European initiative is a different matter. At stake is an estimated $200 million worth of goods, mainly agricultural produce, that are exported annually from settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Several weeks ago the European Commission issued a document suggesting it had grounds to believe that Israel was violating its agreement with the European Union by exporting goods that originate in territories beyond Israel proper. And it also claimed to have evidence that many goods manufactured in Jewish settlements were being exported to Europe as products made in Israel.

The European threat has triggered angry reactions among settler leaders, who have gone as far to compare it to the boycott of Jewish products during the Nazi era.

[Appeared in Jewish News of Greater Phoenix]