Saturday, January 17, 2009


Upon learning that it's a federal offense to boycott Israel, I immediately wondered what products would be boycotted. After a quick search, there seems to be a myth floating out there that says Israeli products can be recognized by a barcode that starts with 729. This doesn't seem to be true, according to this Bar Code FAQ:
Does the barcode number indicate the country of origin of a product?

No it doesn't. The 3-digit prefix code indicates which GS1 numbering organization has allocated the block of numbers to the company. Once the company has been assigned the block of numbers, they self assign each individual number in the block to a given product. For example, a company may have it's headquarters in South Africa. The GS1 organization in South Africa has the code "600", but all the products of the company may be manufactured in England. The English-made products would still have the "600" prefix code. The prefix code is a way to have 70-plus GS1 member organizations issuing numbers without having to worry about duplicate numbers. The 3-digit prefix indicates the country of the GS1 organization that issued the block of numbers, not the country of origin of the product. GS1 (the international organization that administers UPC and EAN) has a clear statement that the prefix DOES NOT indicate the country of origin of the product. A list of country codes can be found on the UPC & EAN Page.

If you're outside of the US, and/or don't mind breaking this federal law, you might wonder how one might spot a product exported from Israel.

The answer is to download a database that matches all UPC product codes (barcodes) on the market as of yet to their respective manufacturers. You can actually download such a database as it is free and distributed under the Creative Commons license (here). Then, simply do a search for "Israel" to find which companies market products which are made in Israel.

Good news: A user named Toshibu has already done the work for us!

  • Here is a comprehensive spreadsheet of all companies exporting products from Israel.
  • Here is a comprehensive chart of all Israeli products registered by UPC to date.

To recreate the above results, the following commands may be used:

$ wget >
$ tar zxf upcdatabase-2009.01.01.tar.gz
$ cd upcdatabase-2009.01.01
$ grep -i "israel\"" glns.csv | awk -F, '{ print $1 }' | cut -c 8- --complement | awk '{print "^"$0}' | grep -f - items.csv > items-israel.csv
$ cat items-israel.csv | awk -F, '{ printf( "%s %*s %s\n", $1, 36, $2, $3 ) }'

That said, maybe Israel doesn't deserve a boycott. After all, the point here isn't the mass slaughtering of innocent civilians in a brutal, racist manner -- oh, wait. After the Holocaust, didn't we all swear it, "Never Again"? Glad to see we haven't forgotten.

Maybe it's genuinely self-defense. Maybe Israel has no choice here. Maybe it's because the Palestinian rockets are so powerful compared to Israeli airstrikes? Oh, wait. Can you guess which is which?

Or maybe it's because Israel can do no wrong. Maybe they are teaching their children to learn from the past, preaching tolerance and love instead of violence and hate? "With love, from Israel." Yeah. I can see that. Good job, guys, you killed the terrorist.

The worst part is, when the UN made a plea for the violence to cease, nobody listened. Because we all expected them to listen, right? Right?


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