NEW DELHI: The European Union is moving ahead with a plan to label products sold in its 28 member countries if they come from Israel. In a stinging move, the EU on Wednesday said that goods produced on land seized in the 1967 war must be labeled “made in settlements.”

Even though European officials tried to downplay the move, saying that guidelines clarified existing rules, the decision was a sharp rebuke to Israel and has served to exacerbate tensions as concerns grow in Israel about the reality of an international boycott.

The “made in settlements” stamp will apply to the occupied West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, as the EU does not recognise Israel’s presence in the areas and the occupation is illegal under international law.

The move prompted an angry response from Israel as it was announced, with the Israeli foreign ministry summoning the EU's envoy to Israel for a meeting in Jerusalem and making clear that the move would hurt ties. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went a step further, saying that the economic bloc "should be ashamed" of the decision and likening the move to the Nazi era’s labelling of Jews.

"The labelling of products of the Jewish state by the European Union brings back dark memories. Europe should be ashamed of itself," Netanyahu said. "It took an immoral decision. Of the hundreds of territorial conflicts around the world, it chose to single out Israel and Israel alone, while it's fighting with its back against the wall against the wave of terror.”

"The European Union is not going to hurt the Israeli economy. It's strong enough to weather this, but it's the Palestinian workers in Israeli enterprises in Judea and Samaria that will be hurt," the Israeli leader stated. "This will not advance peace; it will certainly not advance truth and justice. It's wrong. Europe should be ashamed of itself."

The move has come in the context of a larger recognition of Palestine, as the EU decided to proceed on guidelines years in the making after several of its member states, and its own Parliament, formally or symbolically recognised a legitimate Palestinian state.

The EU is Israel’s largest trading partner, but trade from the areas that will require the “made in settlements” stamp account for only 1 percent of Israel’s $13 billion in annual exports to the EU. However, although the initial move will be minimal, concern is growing in Israel that the logic behind the labelling could extend to the broader economy by targeting businesses that have operations in these settlements, as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement gains momentum.

Palestinian representatives on their part welcomed the move, but said it did not go far enough. Settlement-based businesses “make products with stolen natural resources on the land of the Palestinian people,” Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement. “Those products should not only be labeled, but should be banned.”

Mahmoud Nawajaa, a Palestinian leader of the BDS movement, was quoted in The New York Times saying that labeling was “hardly a proportionate response to repeated Israeli war crimes.”

In recent years, the BDS movement has gained a wave of support. The catalyst for the number of successes was a high-profile controversy. 2014 opened with an international controversy over the decision of Hollywood A-lister Scarlett Johansson to become a brand ambassador for SodaStream, the Israeli drinks machine manufacturer that operates a factory in an illegal Israeli settlement.

The move attracted particular attention because the Lost in Translation star was also an ambassador for Oxfam, an international NGO that condemns illegal Israeli settlements. Oxfam faced huge pressure to ditch Johansson and publicly criticised her decision.

Ultimately it was Johansson who brought the saga to a close when she stepped down as an Oxfam representative, but not before social media memes about her support for Israel’s apartheid regime had gone viral and the BDS movement had received unprecedented international media attention. SodaStream’s share price suffered the first of many hits.

Thanks to ScarJo, albeit inadvertently, the BDS Movement skyrocketed into the international spotlight. In a statement, Oxfam said that businesses “such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support." A SodaStream ad starring Johansson hawking water carbonators made by the company was aired during the superbowl, and the controversy surrounding the actress’ resignation from Oxfam was covered widely in the media.

The movement has been denounced as “anti-Semitic” by Israeli officials, with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leading the attack, condemning the movement as aimed to destroy the Jewish state. "In the past anti-Semites boycotted Jewish businesses and today they call for the boycott of the Jewish state, and by the way, only the Jewish state," Netanyahu said at a conference of US Jewish organisations in Jerusalem. "I think that it is important that the boycotters be exposed for what they are, they are classical anti-Semites in modern garb," Netanyahu added, saying it was time to “delegitimise the delegitimisers."

Netanyahu said that the “most disgraceful” aspect of the movement was the participation of European companies in it, with what he has previously termed the “one sided stance” of Europe failing to recognise Palestinian incitement to terrorism.

Supporters of the movement disagree with this charge. Barghouti published an op-ed in the New York Times explaining the goals of the movement and stating that BDS “poses a serious challenge to Israel’s system of oppression of the Palestinian people, which is the root cause of its growing worldwide isolation.”

The “anti-Semitic” tag that equates the movement with racism is deeply ironical. The movement has consistently maintained that it is against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, and equating a boycott based on government policies that pro-boycott supporters deem oppressive as racism is problematic. This is akin to equating the Gandhi-led boycott of British goods as a measure of protest of colonial policies as racist, or the boycott of a self defined Islamic state, say Saudi Arabia for an unjustifiable human rights records as anti-Islamic.

The reference to the movement advocating the “destruction” of the Israeli state is also a stretch, as the movement upholds equality and states its aim as “recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.” Equating this with the “destruction” of Israel is equivalent to claiming that the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa that demanded equal rights for all citizens was tantamount to calling for the “destruction” of South Africa.

Barghouti aptly concludes, “Would justice and equal rights for all really destroy Israel? Did equality destroy the American South? Or South Africa? Certainly, it destroyed the discriminatory racial order that had prevailed in both places, but it did not destroy the people or the country.”