/ 16 September 2011

Move to relabel ‘Israeli’ goods as bads

Many supermarket products currently marked “product of Israel” could soon carry new labels reading “product of illegal settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, following talks between activist Zackie Achmat and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies.

Achmat and his organisation, Open Shuhada Street, and Davies have agreed in principle that goods manufactured in occupied territories should be labelled as such, as labelling them as product of Israel is misleading.

Davies told the Mail & Guardian this week: “I’m waiting for a formal submission and I will apply my mind and decide on the recommendations. We’re persuaded it’s in the interest of South African consumers to know whether their products are coming from Israel or from the occupied territories.”

Achmat argued this week that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories were illegal under international law and that in terms of the Geneva Convention the occupying power could not remove resources from the land it occupied.

“In 2010, the European Court of Justice ruled that products from the occupied territories cannot be identified as products of Israel,” he said.

Achmat said that he was aware of goods manufactured in the occupied territories, such as the cosmetics brand, Ahava; technology and soft drinks, such as the Soda Stream brand, being sold as products of Israel.

Ahava products are sold at Wellness Warehouse in Cape Town and at Foschini stores. Open Shuhada Street has been embroiled in a lengthy campaign to have them removed from the shelves.

Achmat said that some fruit exported by the company Agrexco, including plums, tomatoes, dates and figs, was sourced from the occupied territories and sold as a product of Israel at stores such as Pick n Pay and Woolworths.

It is understood that many kosher products, including halva and gherkins, sold at Pick n Pay and Spar, fall into the same category.

Achmat said that, although there would be an attempt to stop the relabelling process, the law was very clear that it had to happen.

“There are even some Israelis who don’t buy goods that come from the settlements. This gives people a choice: some people won’t buy Israeli products at all, while others won’t buy settlement products if they know where they come from, as they involve a clear violation of international law.”

The next step in the relabelling process would be for Davies to receive the final draft notice from his department. Achmat said this had already been seen and approved by the International Trade Administration of South Africa.

The notice, providing for a three-month period of public consultation and comment, would then be published in the Government Gazette.

The final step would be the issuing of a trade-description notice prescribing a change in the labels.

Achmat said that since the goods were labelled in Israel and not South Africa, Israeli suppliers might not want to follow the new requirement. As a result, “settlement products will probably become unavailable”.