Canadian court rules against labeling settlement wines as 'Product of Israel'

Elias Hubbard
July 30, 2019

Identifying wine made in West Bank settlements as a product of Israel is "deceptive" and interferes with the Charter right to free expression by making it harder for Canadians to "buy conscientiously", the Federal Court ruled Monday.

The court order means that the Canada Food Inspection Agency would decide how the wines should be labeled after having originally stripped them of the label in July 2017.

In 2015, the European Union approved guidelines for member states to include the phrase "Israeli settlement" on labels of products from Jewish enclaves in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, all of which were occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

But Judge Anne Mactavish said because "there is no dispute that the settlements in which the wines are produced are not part of the territory of the State of Israel", she was finding for Kattenburg.

As to how the settlement wines should now be labelled, "it is not appropriate for this Court to determine", the decision reads.

"While there is profound disagreement between those involved in this matter as to the legal status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, I do not need to resolve that question in this case", the judge wrote in her decision Monday.

Canadian laws require that food products, including wines that are sold in Canada, "bear truthful, non-deceptive and non-misleading country of origin labels". "The decision explicitly did not find that there is anything illegal about Israeli settlements east of the Green Line or wines produced there, despite the applicant attempting to argue this point". In her decision, Mactavish notes that all parties agreed that the settlements, whatever their legality, were not part of the territorial boundaries of the State of Israel. He followed up with a formal complaint that March, after which the CFIA determined the labels were misleading and in violation of federal law.

The court explained that labeling the wines produced in Judea and Samaria as "Products of Israel" contravenes both subsection 7 (1) of the Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act and subsection 5 (1) of the Food and Drugs Act [129], and was therefore not defensible under Canadian law. "It is our fervent hope that the government of Justin Trudeau will accept the court's well-reasoned decision and will not waste yet more taxpayer dollars by appealing this decision and by continuing to facilitate Israel's naked theft of occupied Palestinian land", he said.

Blogger Ali Abunimah, a bitter critic of Israel and declared anti-Zionist, went as far as calling the court ruling "historic". "This is why we are urging the Government of Canada to appeal this misguided ruling". The president of the agency held two meetings with senior staff and also examined information from Global Affairs Canada that suggested the West Bank could be considered Israeli territory under the Canada-Israel free trade agreement.

For political reasons, some consumers seek out products made in Israel, while others avoid them, he noted - a concern echoed in the court ruling.

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center expressed dismay over the ruling. So he turned to the courts to settle an issue deeply rooted in the complex, emotionally fraught dialogue among Canada's Jewish community regarding Israeli settlements in the West Bank. "Claiming West Bank wines can't be labeled "Made in Israel" effectively endorses the anti-Semitic BDS campaign", said the group's head, Avi Benlolo, in a statement, referring to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Israel's Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment by the time this article was posted.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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