Israeli producers fight EU pressure25th March, 2013 by Gabriel Stone
Israeli winemakers on the West Bank are facing a growing battle with the European Union over how they label produce from this politically sensitive region.
EU officials are urging member states to label goods produced from Israeli settlements as either “Produce of the West Bank (Israeli settlement produce)” or “Israeli produce of the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.
However, wine producers in this disputed area are speaking out against this international pressure, which they view as unjust victimisation .
“This is pure racism,” Yaakov Berg, founder of Psagot vineyards told the Telegraph. Having established the venture near Jerusalem almost a decade ago, he now produces around 120,000 bottles of wine each year.
Defending his position, Berg told the newspaper, “I didn’t kill anyone to take this land, I paid for it, and I provide good jobs for Palestinians that pay three or four times what they could earn elsewhere.”
According to a report published last year by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), “By accepting imports of settlement goods designated as originating in ‘Israel’, Europe is tacitly accepting Israel’s creeping expansion of sovereignty.”
As a result, the FIDH argued: “Governments are failing to protect consumers’ legal right to make an informed choice about purchasing settlement goods.”
This view received further endorsement earlier this month, when 27 EU heads of mission signed a report that recommended strict labeling of settlement products, thereby encouraging a boycott similar to that imposed on South Africa during Apartheid.
Last year The Co-operative Group became the first major UK retailer to announce that it would no longer buy products from suppliers who work with the settlements.
There are fears that any boycott could have a negative knock on effect for the burgeoning Israeli wine industry as a whole.
According to latest information from Wines Israel, the country has 5,500 hectares of vineyard, with exports in 2012 worth US$29.8 million. Of these, 55% go to the US, with France and the UK the next biggest importers of Israeli wine.