White House orders changes to labeling of products imported from Israel

Here’s a story which seemed to get lost in the shuffle this month, what with so many other alerts devouring the news cycle. A memo was sent out from the Obama administration early in January directing a change to how products from Israel are labeled. As Adam Kredo at the Washington Free Beacon explains, this has riled up many folks on both sides of the aisle.

A memo issued earlier this month by the Obama administration directs the U.S. “trade community” and government partner agencies to explicitly label Israeli-made goods that have been produced in the West Bank.

The Jan. 23 directive states that it is “not acceptable” to label goods coming from Israeli companies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as having been produced in “Israel.”

The order comes amid an effort by the European Union to label Israeli-made goods, a move the Israeli government called anti-Israel and that prominent anti-Semitism watchdog groups have condemned as among the worst incidents of anti-Semitism in 2015.

There are a couple layers of this onion to break down. Some of the comments I’ve seen from folks weighing in on the question indicate that there’s a little bit of confusion over this directive because it’s different from a parallel debate taking place in the EU. Across the pond there are already fears that demands for the labeling of products as being from Israel is just a thinly disguised step toward facilitating a boycott of Israeli by Palestinian supporters. While it’s a legitimate concern, it’s a bit different than regulations already in place here in the United States.

This memo is not some new order that products should be labeled as being from Israel, which we already do anyway. It’s actually a demand to stop labeling goods that way if they are produced in either the West Bank or Gaza. This seems to be in keeping with previous statements from the President supporting the EU in this matter and expressing “concerns” over Israeli settlement activity.

The reason the two situations shouldn’t be conflated is that we aren’t “suddenly” labeling products from Israel or anywhere else for that matter. We’ve had a requirement in place for imports from all nations to be labeled as to their country of origin since the Tariff Act of 1930. Specifics of this can be found via the US Customs and Border Protection web site.

Prior to importing your goods into the United States, you should ensure the overseas supplier has marked the goods with the country of origin. For example, goods originating in China should be marked “Made in China”. The marking must be legible and permanent enough for the ultimate purchaser to be made aware of the goods origin.

The ultimate purchaser is the person who will last purchase or receive the article in the condition in which it was imported. That could be a consumer (one who buys), processor (one who further processes materials or recipient (receiver of a gift).

There are exceptions to this requirement. For instance, for goods that are incapable of being marked (i.e. fruit), it is appropriate to mark the outer container with the country of origin.

One could argue, I suppose, that all such labeling might be a useful tool for people looking to organize a boycott or simply promote the purchase of Made in America goods, but it’s nothing specific to Israel on our side of the ocean. The real change here has to do with removing the “made in Israel” label from products produced in Palestinian territory. That does leave one to wonder what the label is supposed to be replaced with if Palestine still isn’t “officially” a nation. As noted above, all imported goods (with a few exceptions for perishables) have to say they came from somewhere.