Today, the Israeli government’s worst fears were realized at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
The ECJ – the highest court in the European Union – ruled that products made in Israel’s illegal, West Bank settlements may not be labelled as “Product of Israel” and must disclose that they were produced in a West Bank settlement.
The case was initiated in France by Psagot Winery Ltd. The winery is situated in the settlement of Psagot and, according to an investigation by The Independent, sits partially on land stolen from Palestinian owners.
Before the issuance today of the ECJ’s decision, Israeli officials were reported to have urged Psagot Winery’s management to abandon the case after the ECJ’s Advocate General, Gerald Hogan, issued a stinging opinion condemning Israel’s settlements as a flagrant violation of international law.
But Psagot Winery plowed ahead anyway.
The ECJ’s decision follows hot on the heels of a similar decision rendered this past summer by Canada’s Federal Court in a judicial review application launched by Dr. David Kattenburg.
In that widely publicized decision, Justice Anne L. Mactavish, who has since been elevated to Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal, ruled that “Product of Israel” labels on wines made in Israel’s West Bank settlements were “false, misleading and deceptive.”
In the Canadian case, one of wines at issue was produced by Psagot Winery.
Upon learning of the Federal Court’s decision, pro-Israel lobby groups became apoplectic. So extreme was their invective that an organization led by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a notorious promoter of Israeli apartheid, took out a full-page ad in the New York Times falsely accusing Canada’s Federal Court of anti-Semitism:
Ultimately, Justin Trudeau’s government succumbed to the lobby’s pressure and filed an appeal from the decision of the Federal Court of Canada. Trudeau capitulated despite the fact that his own government acknowledges that Israel’s West Bank settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and are a “serious obstacle to peace.”
Pasgot Winery is controlled by the wealthy Falic family of Florida, owners of the Duty Free Americas airport chain. They have been the biggest donors to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and have given nearly $6 million to settler groups in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
According to a recent report by Al-Monitor, the Falics have retained the elite lobbying firm Covington & Burling to enlist the Trump administration in a legal and political fight against the EU regulations on country-of-origin labels.
Meanwhile, in the Canadian litigation, Psagot Winery’s incensed CEO decided to take matters into his own hands.
Berg retained the Lawfare Project and Toronto law firm, Re-Law LLP, to file a motion seeking to have Psagot Winery added as a party to the government’s appeal in Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal.
The Lawfare Project describes itself as “the world’s only international pro-Israel litigation fund” and says that it has launched more than 70 lawsuits and legal actions in 16 jurisdictions around the world.
The affidavit Berg filed in support of Psagot Winery’s motion can be viewed here.
On October 23, 2019, I had the opportunity, as Dr. Kattenburg’s lawyer, to cross-examine Berg.
Some of the more notable aspects of the cross-examination (the transcript of which can be viewed here) were as follows:
- I asked Berg to explain what he meant by the “Land of Israel.” According to Berg, the “Land of Israel” includes not only the land between the Green line and the Mediterranean sea, but also the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights. (Evidently, Berg believes that no part of historic Palestine belongs to Palestinians, and that the Palestinian people must choose between living under permanent military occupation or abandoning their homeland.)
- Berg claimed that the Palestinian Authority imposes a “death punishment” on every Palestinian who sells his house to a Jew.
- Berg stated that, before entering the Canadian market, Psagot Winery did not consult any experts to inform itself about the laws and regulations applicable to the sale of its products in Canada.
- Berg claimed that the Federal Court of Canada’s decision is “the same thing” as requiring a Jewish person to wear a yellow star on his clothes. According to Berg, it’s “exactly what happened in Germany.”
- Berg refused to answer questions as to whether Israeli authorities had issued a demolition order against his home (as reported in October of this year by The Independent.)
- When asked about statements attributed to him by Haaretz, Berg says “Haaretz is a very very left left newspaper in Israel. It, they work for Israeli enemies. The chances that I would talk to them is very very low.”
The Federal Court of Appeal has not yet rendered a decision as to whether Psagot Winery should be a party to the government’s appeal. That decision is likely to be issued in the weeks ahead.