Hitting the bottle

VP Harris serves wine made in West Bank settlement at Passover seder

Psagot Winery has named a blend after Trump envoy Mike Pompeo, challenged labeling laws; vice president’s aide says choice ‘not an expression of policy’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Vice President Kamala Harris (R) and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff host a Passover seder in the Vice President's Residence, serving wine from the Psagot settlement winery, on April 16, 2022. (Doug Emhoff/Twitter)
Vice President Kamala Harris (R) and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff host a Passover seder in the Vice President's Residence, serving wine from the Psagot settlement winery, on April 16, 2022. (Doug Emhoff/Twitter)

US Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff served wine made in a West Bank settlement at their Passover seder on Friday.

The surprising choice in spirits, given the Biden administration’s critical stance toward Israeli settlements, was spotted on the vice president’s seder table in photos posted on Twitter by Harris and Emhoff.

The bottle was from the Psagot Winery, a company based in the West Bank north of Jerusalem that has made headlines in recent years.

The winery challenged a 2016 French court ruling that said goods made in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights must be labeled as originating in an “Israeli settlement.” The challenge to the European Court of Justice was unsuccessful.

Psagot released a wine blend named after former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in 2020 after he repudiated a 1978 State Department legal opinion that said civilian settlements in the West Bank were “inconsistent with international law.”

Pompeo was Washington’s top envoy under former US president Donald Trump, whose administration largely supported the settlement movement, unlike US President Joe Biden’s White House.

Pompeo visited the winery in November 2020, together with Trump’s ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

The winery’s CEO, Yaakov Berg, who hosted Pompeo, said Sunday that the vice president’s seder planners appeared to have chosen a Cabernet Sauvignon that sells for around $40. He quipped to Army Radio that he’d make a wine named for Harris if she votes against a revival of the 2015 P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran.

Then-US ambassador to Israel David Friedman (L) and former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (2nd L) during a visit to the Psagot Winery in the West Bank, on November 19, 2020. (State Department/Twitter)

The Biden administration harshly criticized Israel when it advanced plans for some 3,000 settlement homes last year, calling such steps “completely inconsistent” with efforts to maintain prospects for peace.

But the administration has not heeded calls from progressive groups like J Street to more formally back that stance up by reversing the decision made by Pompeo, or repudiating the Trump peace plan, which envisioned Israel annexing the West Bank settlements.

Israeli winemaker Yaakov Berg holds a bottle of his red blend named after former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Psagot Winery in the Sha’ar Binyamin industrial park near the Psagot settlement in the West Bank, north of Jerusalem, on November 18, 2020. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

Some pro-Palestinian voices jeered Harris’s Passover wine choice, including James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute.

“Psagot’s vineyards are on stolen Palestinian land. It’s not cool,” Zogby said.

The vast majority of the land on which the winery was established historically was farmed by residents of the adjacent Palestinian village of al-Bireh. It was seized by the IDF in 1979 for what it said were security reasons, though some of the farmers were still able to reach their land. That changed after the Second Intifada when the Psagot settlement established a security fence around the community. It extended well beyond the 140 dunams (34 acres) that the IDF had allocated for the settlement, to 650 dunams (160 acres). The winery founders used that extra land on the outskirts of the town, but inside the security fence, to plant their grapes.

Berg, at the time of Pompeo’s visit, declared: “We are here forever. We have been praying to come back to Israel and specifically to here for 2,000 years… We didn’t conquer. We just came to our homeland.”

In response to the vice president’s use of Psagot wine, former ambassador Friedman cracked, “Next year I would recommend that the Second Family serve the ‘Friedman’ vintage from the Psagot Winery. I may be biased but I think it’s very good.”

Harris’s senior aide Herbie Ziskind said, “The wine served at the Seder was in no way intended to be an expression of policy.”

ToI staff contributed to this story.

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