A petition calling for an EU ban on imports from illegal settlements, including Israeli ones in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, has met with accusations of trying to promote the destruction of Israel, on day one of the campaign.
The Stop the Settlements petition has been backed by more than 100 NGOs, including international pressure groups Human Rights Watch and Avaaz.
The petition is a so-called European Citizens' Initiative — a tool developed by the EU allowing citizens to prompt the European Commission to propose new laws.
Once an initiative has reached one million signatures, the commission has leeway to decide what action, if any, to take.
The petition also represents a second go at testing the EU mood on the topic.
The EU Commission declined to even register a citizens' initiative on banning settler products by the same sponsors in 2019, on the grounds that it had no legal powers to impose trade sanctions.
But in May last year the EU General Court in Luxembourg said the Commission was wrong. EU officials started accepting signatures on the new petition on Sunday, giving organisers 12 months, i.e. until 20 February 2023, to meet the one-million threshold.
However, even if the new petition were to win sufficient backing, any commission moves toward fulfilling its demands would meet with fierce opposition from pro-Israeli EU countries. Hungary, for example, has routinely vetoed EU criticism of Israel in recent years.
The European Jewish Congress (EJC), a Brussels-based group, immediately branded the campaign part of wider efforts to destroy Israel.
"The agenda of many of these organisations is not to promote human rights, international law or a peaceful resolution to the [Arab-Israeli] conflict, but to foment emotional anger and make a malicious claim about the illegitimacy of the only Jewish state in the world, and to promote the narrative of those states and political movements which seek to wipe it off the map," the EJC told EUobserver by email on Sunday.
Two of the organisations behind the petition, Al-Haq and Addameer, also had "well-established links" to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is on the EU's terrorist register, the EJC added.
The backers of Stop the Settlements underlined that their main thrust was to make EU institutions respect international rule of law — not to take aim at Israel.
"Our proposed new [EU] law would [also] apply to Transniestria, to Western Sahara, to any annexation in Ukraine," Tom Moerenhout, a petition spokesman and an adjunct assistant professor of international relations at Columbia University in New York, who lives in Brussels, told EUobserver.