BBC News, Jerusalem
Not all consumers are the same. Not all supermarket shoppers care just about price, or freshness, or brand. Some also care about from where a product came.
Since I wrote about labelling of produce from the West Bank, in November, several people got in touch to tell me that they had been mystified by supermarket food, labelled as produce of the “West Bank”. Did that mean produce of Israeli settlements or Palestinian farms?
On Tuesday, the British government is chairing a meeting in London on the issue.
A spokesman from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that it follows a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown from the charity Oxfam.
The spokesman was keen to stress that this was not a formal “consultation”, but a “roundtable meeting” with retailers, a charity, and some government departments, called as a result of “public concern”, to discuss whether it might be feasible to provide consumers with more information.
Mike Bailey, from the Oxfam office in Jerusalem, was more explicit:
“We’re concerned about two aspects: that Israeli companies which are farming or extracting minerals from the West Bank are denying Palestinians the chance to use these natural resources, in contravention of the Geneva Convention on occupation; and that if the produce is not clearly labelled, consumers are denied the opportunity to make an informed choice, so they may unwittingly be supporting an illegal occupation.”
What is more, Mike Bailey says, a new trading law may make more specific labelling a legal requirement, rather than a voluntary choice.
The European Union’s Unfair Commercial Practices Directive was transposed into British law last year. According to Mike Bailey, the directive “makes it illegal to withhold material information from consumers in their decision-making.”
TURNING OFF ISRAEL
Israeli manufacturers say that they are already feeling the effect of an informal boycott.
A private survey carried out by the Manufacturers Association of Israel has identified a huge decline in demand for Israeli exports.
That has been caused, in large part, by the global economic slump. But one in five exporters said that “being Israeli causes some problems”.
In this case, the problem stems from the recent conflict in Gaza. An official from the Association, who asked not to be named, because the publicity had not been helpful, said that a boycott “happens every so often” – during wars, or Palestinian uprisings.
He argued, though, that if people wanted to boycott Israeli goods, then they might find it difficult to be consistent:
“You should probably shut down your computer because the processor has come from the Intel plant at Qiryat Gat; you should shut down your cellphone because Nokia and Sony use Israeli-designed software; you will have to end your Powerpoint presentation because your memory stick was developed in Israel.”
Older memories of Gaza hang low and heavy over a small museum in Jerusalem.
The Gush Katif Museum opened last year. Last week it staged a new exhibition linked to the upcoming Passover festival.
My guide was Karni Eldad, daughter of Arieh Eldad, a member of the Knesset for the hard-right National Union party, and a former brigadier-general.
The exhibition dwells on the reflections of the 8,000 settlers evacuated from Gaza in 2005.
Low, on one wall, a key has been mounted inside a frame. Karni Eldad explains: “It has the connotation of the Palestinians who carry keys around their necks and say it’s for their house in Akko, or Haifa, or Jerusalem… and yes, we’re also going to come back.”
But as we walk through the handsomely refurbished space, Karni’s optimism drains.
“No-one is safe,” she says, pointing at one exhibit, the skeletal frame of a suitcase. “You think what is yesterday will happen tomorrow. But there is no guarantee.”
Her gloom deepens when she contemplates the new government. She predicts that more settlements will be “taken down”.
“We, the right-wing, are not good at ruling. It’s a psychological thing. No-one knows why, but when they get into government, they go all the way left.”
One sign of that, she says, is the fact that her father’s party, the National Union, will not be a part of the new coalition government. “I asked my dad yesterday if he was going to be a minister,” Karni told me. She paused. “Wrong question.”