Vered Ben Sa’adon’s grandmother Liesje de Vries lived in Holland when the Holocaust arrived in her native land. She survived the war by scurrying from one hiding place to another.
Three generations later, Ben Sa’adon co-owns a boutique winery in the West Bank settlement of Rechelim, whose products can be found in selected stores in the US, Britain, Germany, Hong Kong and Canada. The vintages produced by the Tura Winery proudly state, on the front label, that they are “from the Land of Israel.”
But two weeks ago, the Federal Court in Ottawa issued a ruling that could keep her products off Canadian shelves if she doesn’t agree to change the label.
Challenging a previous decision by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Judge Anne L. Mactavish determined that labels describing wines made in the settlements as Israeli products are “false, misleading and deceptive.” Allowing the wines to be marked as “Made in Israel” does not fall “within the range of possible, acceptable outcomes which are defensible in respect of the facts and law,” she determined. “It is, rather, unreasonable.”
Ben Sa’adon, who runs the business together with her husband, Erez, vowed not to change a single letter on her labels, even if it means losing out on lucrative business deals.
“My grandmother was forced to label herself as a Jew with a yellow patch. I will never label myself, nor my products,” she said. “Whoever in the past sought to label Jews is today seeking to label Jewish products. It’s exactly the same thing.”
A Norwegian businessman recently wanted to import Tura wines, but said he was instructed by his government to ask for the bottles to be labeled as “Made in Palestine,” Ben Sa’adon recalled. “I said, then there’s no deal.”
In her July 29 ruling, Judge Mactavish noted that settlements are not considered part of the State of Israel, as Canada does not recognize Israeli sovereignty beyond the pre-1967 borders. She did not take a position on how exactly settler wines should be labeled, saying that was for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to decide.
Ben Sa’adon said she will not agree to any other wording, like “Made in the West Bank” or “Made in Israeli settlement Rechelim.”
“I pay taxes like all Israelis, I have the same obligations as all Israelis — we are exactly the same,” she said.
The court’s decision was welcomed by Palestinians and other supporters of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement.
“This is an important first step for Canada and beyond, as this landmark ruling is an affirmation of the supremacy of the law and Canada’s obligation to respect international law, which considers settlements illegal and does not recognize them as part of Israel,” cheered Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Like Ben Sa’adon, settler leaders and Canadian pro-Israel advocates remain defiant, vowing to fight the decision.
“It is our expectation that the government of Canada will continue to oppose the application and file leave to appeal before the end of the month,” said Shimon Fogel, the head of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
The Toronto-based advocacy organization clearly sees the BDS movement as being behind what Fogel called a “flawed decision.”
“CIJA attaches a lot of importance to the government getting it right on this issue, and we are very concerned that a failure to file an appeal would have serious ramifications both with respect to the bilateral relationship as well as sentiment within the Canadian Jewish community,” he told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “That said, it is difficult for me to believe it would not file an appeal.”
According to Brian Naud, a spokesman for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the government “is carefully reviewing” the court’s decision. But, he told The Times of Israel on Tuesday, it is currently “too early to indicate what the next steps will be.”
The Canadian government has until the end of the month to decide whether to file an appeal or not.
The State of Israel, meanwhile, has been mildly critical of the court decision, but does seem particularly bothered by it.
“The Canadian court’s decision concerning labeling of Israeli products encourages and lends support to boycotts and the BDS movement. Israel objects to this,” the Foreign Ministry said in a rather lackadaisical statement.
The ministry and the Israeli embassy in Ottawa “will continue to act against discriminatory treatment and the singling out of Israel in the matter of product labeling in Canada,” it said, without elaborating.
The pro-settlement Yesha Council, too, appeared relatively unfazed by the whole affair.
“This is a challenge the State of Israel has to deal with it, not only Judea and Samaria,” said the group’s director-general, Yigal Dilmoni, using a Biblical term for the West Bank.
The council has asked the government for assistance but has not received “clear answers,” he added. “I don’t know what the government is doing on this, but we will continue to check.”
The ruling started with the appeal of David Kattenburg, a Jewish university lecturer and pro-Palestinian activist from Winnipeg, which didn’t prevent Dilmoni from declaring that efforts to boycott or label settlement goods are partially anti-Semitic. The idea is to hurt Jews financially, promoting the old trope of a Jewish obsession with money, he argued.
“But they won’t overcome us. All these things cannot defeat us,” Dilmoni declared. “The opposite is true: We are growing more and more. Attempts to hurt us financially are boomeranging,” he added, noting that supporters of Israel’s settlement enterprise are increasingly willing to put their money where their mouths are.
Some 30,000 Palestinians work in West Bank settlements, where they are paid more than twice as much as what they would make if they worked in the Palestinian territories, according to Dilmoni.
“I help the Arabs who live in Judea and Samaria much more than any Jew in Canada who thinks that labeling [settlement] products will help the Arabs,” he said. “Anyone who buys products from Judea and Samaria brings peace closer.”
Neither the Yesha Council nor the Canadian Food Inspection Agency were able to say how many settlement products are being exported to the country.
According to Fogel, the pro-Israel activist from Toronto, Canada’s trade volume with the settlements trade is “not significant.” The fight against last month’s court ruling, hence, “is more symbolic” than anything, he acknowledged.
Ben Sa’adon’s Tura Winery produces 100,000 bottles of wine per year, but she was unwilling to say how many of those she sells to Canada.
“We grow every year, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have difficulties,” she said. “It’s not easy, and [the Canadian court decision] creates problems that I have to deal with it.” She was hesitant to discuss what she has done so far to fight the looming labeling requirement.
“These days I’m in touch with many actors, but I cannot name them… We certainly won’t sit quietly and accept this decision, which is anti-Semitic, entirely baseless and motivated by unethical reasons.”
Reached for comment about the case, Sylvain Leclerc, a spokesperson for the Canadian Foreign Ministry, sent The Times of Israel a boilerplate response affirming Israel’s “right to live in peace and security with its neighbours” and hailing Ottawa’s “strong and multifaceted bilateral relations with Israel, which is based on values, a long history of close cooperation, and strong people-to-people ties.”