JERUSALEM (AP) — A senior Israeli Cabinet minister on Tuesday condemned a European Union plan to begin labeling West Bank settlement products, saying the move amounted to "disguised anti-Semitism."
The EU is expected to order the labeling, possibly this week, in what is widely seen as a show of displeasure over Israel's continued expansion of settlements in territory sought by the Palestinians for a future state. The EU already bars goods made in settlements from receiving customs exemptions given to goods made inside Israel.
Yuval Steinitz, the minister for national infrastructure, energy and water resources and a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accused the EU of unfairly singling out Israel when it has not taken similar action toward products made in areas like Chinese-controlled Tibet or Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus.
"We cannot conceive it but as some disguised anti-Semitism," he told reporters Tuesday.
An EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media, said a decision could come in Brussels as soon as Wednesday.
The economic impact of such a measure would likely be minimal. Although the EU is Israel's largest trade partner, settlement products make up a tiny portion of Israeli exports. But it would have great symbolic meaning by forcing exporters to explicitly label products as being made in settlements — a potential stigma that could deter consumers.
The Palestinians claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — as parts of a future independent state.
The international community opposes Israeli settlements in the two areas, saying they undermine the goal of dividing the land. More than 550,000 Jewish settlers live on occupied land.
Israel says moves like the labeling plan encourage the Palestinians to take hard-line positions and avoid negotiations.