A Customs reminder barring West Bank products from being labeled “Made in Israel,” has turned into a political fight with Republicans pushing forward a legislative measures in order to revoke the labeling rule.
Arkansas Republican senator Tom Cotton introduced a bill that would scrap the Customs labeling regulation. Cotton’s move came following a reminder issued by Customs and Border Protection and first reported by the Forward.
Cotton called the CBP rule “nonsensical” and said in a statement that it “plays right into the hands of those who are driving insidious efforts to boycott Israeli goods.” The bill, which currently does not have any cosigners listed, calls to allow labeling products from the West Bank and Gaza Strip as made in Israel.
Three other senators, including GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, co-sponsored the bill.
The Customs rule requiring products from the territories to be labeled as made in the West Bank or Gaza is two decades old and was initially put in place in order to encourage Palestinian export to America. It does not distinguish between goods exported from Jewish settlements and those made by Palestinians in the occupied territories.
On January 23, CBP issued a reminder to the rule, which despite being on the books for years, has not been enforced in many cases. A State Department spokesman said the reminder was issued following several complaints regarding mislabeling of West Bank products and that it in no way represents any change in the Obama policy toward Israel. But Cotton, in his statement said the move was an “effort to put daylight between the United States and Israel.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition also rejected administration’s claim that there is no change in American policy regarding settlement products. The group issued Wednesday an action alert to its 40,000 members, urging them to contact their representatives regarding the Obama administration’s “growing flirtation with the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement.” The RJC described the Customs directive as “unacceptable” and praised Cotton’s bill.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.