BERLIN – A German NGO started a grassroots online petition last week to urge Chancellor Angela Merkel not to move forward with a labeling system for products originating in the West Bank because of the adverse consequences it would have on Israel.
The pro-Israel German Media Watch organization started the petition, titled "Call against the labeling of Israeli merchandise," with the goal of blunting the German Green Party's aggressive Bundestag initiative calling for demarcating products made in the West Bank.
In response to the Green Party's initiative, the government stated, "In our view, it is permissible to label products with the 'Made in Israel' sticker only if those products are manufactured within the 1967 borders."
Dr. Asaf Romirowsky, the acting executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), and a leading expert on the boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that he "commends" the initiative.
"Labeling products from any part of Israel has become a pervasive BDS tactic which is contrary to any search for peace, since it represents a form of misguided economic warfare. Further, it is directly in opposition to decades of agreements between Israeli and Arab Palestinians, in which both sides pledged to negotiate a peaceful settlement and a commitment to a two-state solution, but only Israel has repeatedly made concessions for peace," he said.
Stressing the disparate treatment imposed on Israel, the authors of the petition wrote only products from the territorial conflict with respect to Jewish settlements are targeted and other conflict regions are excluded, including northern Cyprus, Morocco, China and India. The petition added that the "argument of better consumer protection has only an alibi function" and will "make it easier for groups hostile to Israel" to convince consumers not to buy Israeli products. The text added that Germany has a special responsibility toward Israel.
The petition – which appears in German, Italian and English – has attracted a number of well-know figures in the Federal Republic, including Stephan J. Kramer, the secretary-general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and Sacha Stawski, the head of both the NGO "I like Israel" and the media watchdog group Honestly Concerned.
Eva-Maria Klatt, a board member of the German-Israeli Friendship Society (DIG) in Frankfurt signed the petition.
Critics say the national leadership of the DIG, including Reinhold Robbe, the current president, has failed to tackle the campaign to label products from settlements. In an email exchange between the German-Jewish author Henryk M. Broder and Robbe that was obtained by the Post, Broder criticized the DIG head for not stating his opposition in a large German daily.
Robbe issued a comment to the Jewish community's newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine Zeitung questioning why Israel was singled out, and stressed to Broder that he has a lot on his plate and cannot comment on every event. Broder wrote that the labeling initiative is an anti-Israel – and at its core, anti-Semitic – campaign of the Greens, in which a leading member of the DIG is involved.
The Green Party MP Marieluise Beck is a leading member of the DIG and played a key role in pushing her party's initiative in the Bundestag to label products made in the West Bank. She declined to be interviewed for this dispatch but proposed a meeting with the Post in July.
Broder called on Robbe to write an open letter to Beck or the Green Party. Robbe did not reply to a Post media query about the alleged failures of the DIG and his tenure at the German government-funded friendship organization.