Selling settlement products as “Made in Israel” may mislead consumers and stop them from making what they consider to be ethical buying choices, a senior European Union legal official says.
“Just as many European consumers objected to the purchase of South African goods in the pre-1994 apartheid era, present-day consumers may object on similar grounds to the purchase of goods from a particular country” because it pursues “policies which that consumer happens to find objectionable or even repugnant,” Gerard Hogan, advocate general of the Court of Justice of the European Union, writes in an advisory opinion published last week.
The opinion specifies that consumers may object to buying goods from Israeli settlements “precisely because of the fact that the occupation and the settlements clearly amount to a violation of international law.”
Israel’s construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian and Syrian land is a war crime.
A 2011 EU directive requires accurate labeling of goods in order to protect a consumer’s right to information, including the origin of a product.
In 2015, the EU issued an “interpretive notice” requiring goods made in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights to be labeled as originating from such settlements.
The French government then issued a regulation in 2016 requiring such labeling on settlement goods.
Two years later, Psagot Winery and the Jewish communal group Organisation Juive Européenne filed a lawsuit with the French Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, claiming the practice is discriminatory.
In response, French authorities suspended the labeling requirement and referred the case to the EU Court of Justice seeking guidance.
The advocate general’s legal opinions are not binding on the EU court, but they are authoritative and are followed in the majority of cases. The EU court has yet to issue its own ruling.
The French court will then have to settle the dispute in line with the EU court’s decision, which will also be binding on other national courts.
Growing grapes on stolen land
The Israeli wine industry is deeply complicit in the occupation and colonization of Palestinian and Syrian land.
Dozens of Israeli wineries in the West Bank and the Golan use stolen land and water resources, according to monitoring group Who Profits.
Large commercial wineries within present-day Israel – like Teperberg Winery – use grapes from occupied West Bank land in their wines.
It is based in the settlement of Pisgat Zeev in occupied East Jerusalem and its winery sources grapes from vineyards near the settlements of Psagot, Kida, Har Bracha, Gush Etzion and Elon Moreh.
Psagot Winery’s visitors center is in the settlement of Psagot, just outside Ramallah.
Yaakov Berg, founder of Psagot Winery, immigrated with his family from the Soviet Union to Israel at a young age.
With the assistance of occupation authorities and the World Zionist Organization, Berg’s father, Meri Berg, had by the 1990s begun seizing land from the Palestinian village of al-Bireh, according to Israeli settlement monitoring organization Kerem Navot.
Yaakov Berg also received financing from the settlement division of the World Zionist Organization to expand the wine business he founded on the land stolen by his father.
“Within a few years, Psagot Winery, which started as a modest family enterprise, became a winery that produces hundreds of thousands of bottles a year, including those destined for export to countries in the European Union,” Kerem Navot notes.
Psagot Winery partner Josh Hexter thinks that despite the winery’s location, BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights – is not a problem because the largest oveseas customer base “are Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox wine drinkers,” as The Times of Israel reported.
“It might even be a plus for some of our customers,” Hexter said.
And each year, a group of American Christian Zionists comes to help with the grape harvest at Psagot and other settlements.
The organization HaYovel brings Christian volunteers to “prophetically serve” Jewish farmers in “Judea and Samaria.”
HaYovel recently sponsored a fundraiser honoring Yehuda Glick, a leader of the Israeli-government backed Jewish extremist movement that aims to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and replace it with a Jewish temple.
Yet there can be no doubt about the illegality of Psagot Winery’s business.
The International Court of Justice and countless UN resolutions have declared the construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied Golan and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, illegal.
But Psagot Winery and its supporters don’t care about international law, EU law or Palestinian rights.
Amnesty and others have called on governments to ban trade in settlement goods altogether, yet after decades of inaction, EU countries are still quibbling over mere labeling.
While Israel lobby groups use any opportunity to bully and intimidate citizens who criticize Israel’s violations of international law, the advocate general affirms that it is not the task of the EU Court of Justice to approve or to disapprove consumers’ ethical choices.
That is up to individuals, who are entitled to make those choices based on full and accurate information.
It remains to be seen whether the court itself will accept the advocate general’s reasoning and limit Israel’s ability to profit with impunity from its crimes by affirming that accurate labeling of settlement goods is required.
Ali Abunimah contributed research.