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‘Product of Palestine wine’ delayed in Ontario over labelling

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The recent court ruling that wines made in Jewish settlements should not be labeled as a “Product of Israel” is already seeing consequences, though not the kind pro-Palestinian activists had hoped for: the sale of beer and wine from a Palestinian producer has been delayed over labelling issues.

In a case of unexpected blowback, products from the Taybeh winery and Taybeh Brewing Co. in Ramallah are being withheld from shelves in Ontario, as officials work out whether they can be labelled as a “Product of Palestine.”

Taybeh products that have been delivered to Canada “are currently on hold due to uncertainty surrounding labelling of products from the Israeli-occupied West Bank,” read an email to The CJN from Dimitri Lascaris, legal counsel to Toronto-based Palestine Just Trade Inc., which he described as “the exclusive agent in Ontario” for Taybeh goods.

Established last year, Palestine Just Trade Inc. is headed by Karen Rodman, a United Church minister and prominent activist in Canada’s BDS movement.

Lascaris had argued against the sale of settlement wines before the Federal Court, which ruled in late July that “Product of Israel” labels on wines made in the West Bank are “false, misleading and deceptive,” because the territory is not recognized as part of Israel. The court sent the matter back to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for further consideration.

Asked about “Made in Palestine” labels, the CFIA stated: “It is the responsibility of the regulated party to ensure that labelling requirements are met, including that the label is not false or misleading.”

In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state, and to date, 138 of the UN’s 193 members have recognized Palestine as a state. Canada is not among them.

According to a government website, Canada recognizes “the Palestinian right to self-determination and supports the creation of a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, as part of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace settlement.”

In an Aug. 29 post on its website, Palestine Just Trade said the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s (LCBO) World Destination Program arranged to include five “Nadim” wines from Taybeh and five varieties of Taybeh beer earlier this year – all labeled “Product of Palestine.” The products were ready for release in early August, when notification came that they were put on hold.

“Just as shipments were ready to go to local LCBO stores for private order pick up, as well as to be put onto the e-commerce channel … the LCBO informed Palestine Just Trade that ‘due to the recent decision by the Federal Court regarding labeling requirements for wines from this region, we have placed these products on hold,’ ” the group stated.

READ: ISRAELI WINERIES PUSH BACK AGAINST CANADIAN COURT RULING

In a statement to The CJN, the LCBO did not reference the Federal Court’s decision, saying only that it is “awaiting direction” from the CFIA on whether the products can be sold as currently labelled, or whether they need “corrective work to comply with federal labelling requirements.” In the meantime, the goods will not be released for sale in Ontario, the agency said.

In an Aug. 28 letter to the president of the CFIA, Lascaris enclosed a certificate from the Palestinian Authority confirming that Taybeh is based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, “which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority. We can assure you that the Taybeh products that have been placed on hold have not been produced in any Israeli settlement.”

Lascaris also enclosed a list of 60 wines made in “the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights or Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory” that are still sold in Canada, despite the Federal Court ruling.

“In our view, the manner in which the CFIA and LCBO are dealing with accurately labelled Taybeh products and falsely labelled products from Israeli settlements in occupied territory is plainly discriminatory,” Lascaris wrote.

He threatened “legal proceedings” unless the Taybeh products can be sold as labelled.

In its post, Palestine Just Trade claimed that “only” $900,000 worth of imports come from Palestine to Canada each year. “Working co-operatively, we can bring the distinct, quality flavours, textures and smells of Palestine to be enjoyed in Canada,” it wrote.

Taybeh bills itself as “the only boutique winery in Palestine.” It did not respond to requests for comment.

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