UPDATE: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued a response on Thursday regretting the outcome of the wine labelling assessment that led to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s (LCBO) response regarding products from two wineries labelled as “Product of Israel”.
They said that in their assessment, they did not fully consider the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA).
“Further clarification of the CIFTA (Article 1.4.1b) indicates that these wines adhere to the agreement and therefore we can confirm that the products in question can be sold as currently labelled,” a spokesperson said in a press release.
The CFIA will be following up with the LCBO to correct their original response.
The CJN is following the story.
Earlier this week, in a replay of controversies seen in Europe, the federal agency had called for an end to the labelling of wine made in the West Bank as a “Product of Israel.”
The directive from CFIA came to light via the LCBO, which has asked its sacramental wine vendors to stop importing and selling wines labelled “Product of Israel” that are made in the West Bank and other “occupied” territories.
In a July 11 letter that lit up social media, the LCBO’s corporate affairs office requested that sacramental wine vendors – independent sellers who order wine used in religious ceremonies through the LCBO – stop any importation or sale of bottles labelled as a “Product of Israel” from two West Bank wineries, “or others located in the same region, until further notice.”
The LCBO says it is following a July 6 notification from the CFIA regarding products from the two Israeli wineries.
“The CFIA clarified that ‘Product of Israel’ would not be an acceptable country of origin declaration for wine products that have been made from grapes that are grown, fermented, processed, blended and finished in the West Bank and occupied territory,” states the letter to vendors from Vincent Caron, a policy advisor at the LCBO.
Named in the LCBO directive are the Psagot Winery in Psagot, north of Jerusalem, and the Shiloh Winery in Ma’ale Levona, a West Bank settlement southeast of Ariel.
The decision seems to be driven by Canada’s official stance toward the territories Israel captured in the Six Day War.
The liquor board said it was advised by the CFIA that the federal government does not recognize Israel’s “sovereignty” over areas captured in 1967: the Golan Heights, the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip (the latter still forms part of Ottawa’s official policy, even though Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005).
Wine products labeled as originating from Israel “would not be acceptable and would be considered misleading,” the LCBO stated.
The board says it’s working with the CFIA “to ensure compliance.”
Critics have angrily denounced the move as bowing to the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli products made in lands captured in 1967.
Canadians for Justice & Peace in the Middle East, a pro-BDS group, has in the past placed stickers on Israeli wines, advising consumers not to purchase them.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said it is “important to note that this does not appear to reflect government policy, as the government of Canada has clearly stated it rejects efforts at the EU to single out Israel by differentiating between products based on the Green Line.”
In a Facebook post, CIJA said the directive from the CFIA “seems to be a relatively low-level decision, which is why we are hopeful it will be rectified.”
B’nai Brith Canada sounded optimistic, as well, saying it expects this “to change in short order” and believes the wines “will be back on the shelves of Canadian liquor stores.”
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center says it is contesting the move with both government bodies. “We consider any action which promotes the so-called BDS campaign against Israel as anti-Semitic. This would be out of step with the existing government policy, which has vigorously condemned the BDS campaign,” president and CEO Avi Benlolo said in a statement.
Calls and emails to the CFIA and the LCBO were not immediately returned.
Yaakov Berg, Psagot Winery’s CEO, said he was “amazed” at Canada’s decision.
“We are living in Judea and Samaria by historic right,” Berg told the Times of Israel on July 12. “Canada, of all places, which was established and developed on basis of occupying and sacrificing the homeland of another people and which has no roots or historical validity to its existence there, doesn’t recognize the right of a Jew to live and cultivate vines on land inherited from his forefathers?”
According to a 2011 report cited by the Times of Israel, West Bank settlements are home to 29 of the more than 150 wineries in Israel and its territories, with 14 in the Golan Heights.
Israeli wines have been at the centre of a battle between Israel and the European Union over product labeling.
In order to meet the needs of religious groups in Ontario, the LCBO appoints sacramental wine vendors “to keep for sale, sell and deliver sacramental wine for use only in religious ceremonies conducted by persons (such as priests, ministers or rabbis) authorized to preside at such ceremonies in a regular place of worship such as a church, synagogue or temple,” the agency explains on its website.