Republican senators seek to codify Trump settlement import-labeling policy

The legislation would ‘defend the integrity of the Jewish state’; dovish Jewish groups oppose it

Tom Cotton

Michael Vadon

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR)

Seven Republican senators are seeking to codify import-labeling rules implemented by the Trump administration on products produced in West Bank settlements, Jewish Insider has learned.

In November 2020, the Trump administration changed U.S. policy to allow goods produced in some Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be labeled as “Made in Israel.” Under the policy, products created in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank were labeled as products of the West Bank, and those produced in the Gaza Strip were marked as such.

Previous U.S. policy from 1995 labeled all goods produced in the territory as “Made in West Bank.” A Biden administration memo on resetting ties with the Palestinian Authority reportedly recommended rolling back Trump administration’s policy change.

The new GOP bill, the “Anti-BDS Labeling Act,” would codify the policy change into federal law, blocking any administration from changing it by executive action. The bill, introduced on Tuesday night, is sponsored by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Rick Scott (R-FL), John Boozman (R-AR), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Bill Hagerty (R-TN) and Ted Cruz (R-TX).

“Left-wing activists abuse county-of-origin labels in order to stigmatize products made in Israel,” Cotton said in a statement to JI. “Our bill will defend the integrity of the Jewish State by ensuring that Israeli products may proudly bear the label ‘Made in Israel.’”

Supporters of this legislation, like David Milstein, the special assistant to former U.S. ambassador to Israel David Freidman, say that the policy reaffirms the reality on the ground in Israel.

“Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle should strongly support Senator Cotton’s important legislation,” Milstein told JI. “The Biden Administration would have absolutely no legitimate or factual basis to reverse the Trump administration’s decision that was consistent with long-standing U.S. policy and practice along with prior diplomatic agreements and the reality on the ground.”

Proponents of the Trump administration policy point to the European Union as an example of how certain labeling requirements can undermine Israel and support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. The EU requires that products coming from Israeli settlements be clearly labeled as such, rather than just as “made in Israel.”

“Reversing the labeling requirements would… only be politicized, anti-Israel and wrongly facilitate BDS against Israel and Israeli-controlled territories just like the EU has been doing with its pejorative labeling requirements,” Milstein added.

Rubio, Cotton and Cruz all lobbied the Trump administration in favor of the policy in 2019, prior to its enactment.

“Your administration should continue its string of pro-Israel policy changes by undoing these misguided Clinton-era guidelines, thereby allowing Israeli goods produced in Judea and Samaria to be labeled as ‘Made in Israel’,” they wrote in a November 2020 letter to then-President Donald Trump. “This decision would be yet another achievement by your administration that would support Israel and would push back against anti-Semitism and the BDS movement.”

Israel critics in Congress, like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) have expressed support for reversing the Trump administration’s labeling rules. Several left-wing Jewish organizations, including J Street and Americans for Peace Now, have also urged the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees import labeling, to repeal the policy. 

“We believe the General Notice is inconsistent with current US policy on the status of the occupied territories, requires inaccurate and misleading labelling on the origin of products, and is harmful to essential interests of Israelis and Palestinians alike,” they wrote in a February letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

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