For years, Psagot Winery CEO Yaakov Berg has manned the front line in the war against the anti-Israel boycott movement.
By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler
When the European Union (EU) singled out Israeli businesses in Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights by trying to force them to label their products as coming from “occupied territory” or “West Bank Settlements,” instead of labeling them “Made in Israel,” Yaakov Berg, CEO of the Psagot Winery in Samaria, took it upon himself to both fight discrimination and take on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“Seventy-five years ago, before the start of the Holocaust, my grandmother’s store was labeled by the Nazis as being ‘Jewish-owned,’” Berg told United With Israel. “People said, ‘It’s just for consumer knowledge.’ But, we know how that turned out. We will not allow Jews to be labeled differently from others. Never again.”
Psagot Winery was established in 2002 as a hobby for its CEO. What started as a 3,000 bottle-a year-wine producer has grown to producing about 400,000 bottles of high quality wines each year. Seventy percent of its bottles are exported all over the world, including Europe.
“Wine is a somewhat unique product as everyone wants to know its background,” Berg explained. “Where it comes from is very important to wine connoisseurs.”
Berg told United With Israel that he has been on the “front line of the war against the BDS movement for years.”
He continued, “When the EU in 2015 published their labeling guidelines that said we cannot write ‘Made in Israel’ we had no choice but to go to court and fight this as discriminatory.”
BDS activists continuously push to have items from Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights labeled derogatorily as part of their strategy to encourage boycotts of Israeli products.
Berg pointed out that no other country in the world beside Israel is forced to label their products in this unique way, regardless of allegedly disputed territories or accusations of human rights violations.
“Why are products from Tibet allowed to be labeled as ‘Made in China’” asked Berg. “I was raised in Russia. There are no unique labels from there, nor from Turkey or anywhere else.”
Though the EU’s guidelines were set four years ago and were supposed to be non-binding, France was enforcing them as law and several European countries ramped up enforcement by sending letters to importers demanding labeling.
The labeling followed an attempt by the EU to ban imports of Israeli goods connected to so-called “disputed territories.” The ban was defeated with legal efforts spearheaded by the Lawfare Project, a nonprofit legal advocacy group based in New York, in partnership with their European counsel.
Hence, the winery’s lawsuit was aimed at challenging the French regulations as non-binding.
‘Made by Jews in their Historical Homeland’
“It is important to note that before the court ruling, labeling was happening in the dark, relatively unnoticed, and was not criticized as discriminatory,” Brooke Goldstein, Founder and Executive Director of the Lawfare Project, told United With Israel.
“Now, with a very high profile court case, Psagot Winery has pushed the issue into the spotlight. This has has resulted in the US government publicly condemning the decision and the Dutch government saying they will not implement the labeling which, is actually the country where all this started in the first place,” Goldstein added.
Ironically, after the recent European Court of Justice decision deeming the label requirement as binding EU law, there appears to be significantly more wiggle room for Israeli producers. Whereas prior to the ruling importers were forced to put the derogatory label “Made in an Israeli Colony” now, the ruling allows anything that would merely distinguish that the product was not made by a Palestinian Muslim. So, for example, “Made by Jews in their Historical Homeland” would ostensible be permitted in accordance with the court’s ruling.
“Hungary has also come out in support of Israel and many more countries are expected to reject the European court’s decision,” Goldstein said. “You could argue then that Israeli producers are in a better place now after the decision, than they were before.”
While product labels have not historically been used to derogatorily flag the ethnicity of product manufacturers or as tools of anti-Israel propaganda, these regulations force Israeli products to serve as political billboards and appear to violate anti-discrimination laws.
“The main European countries, like France, say they will enforce the EU’s labeling guidelines,” Berg continued. “However, pending the outcome of the Psagot Winery’s case in France, the French government has suspended their labeling practices for now.”
Shining a Light on Discrimination
Berg said that he is forced back into court to defend his homeland every time BDS activists exploit the judicial system in their battle to defeat the Jewish state.
“Many people ask why our small winery is fighting this war,” he said. “It takes a lot of money, a lot of effort, a lot of time. We are a small David fighting the EU Goliath. I love the Israeli government and people think it should take on this fight. But, it does a lot and it has a lot of other fights to fight. As Jews and Israelis, we can’t keep saying ‘let the government handle it.’ We must do something too.”
Last Tuesday, following efforts by the Israel Allies Caucus and in response to the legal actions brought by Psagot Winery with the support of the Lawfare Project, the Dutch parliament passed a motion objecting to the European Court of Justice’s ruling that singles out Israel for specific labeling.
“The Jewish people have returned to their homeland,” Berg told United With Israel. “I am working in the fields of my ancestors who made wine here since the Second Temple period. Historians and archaeologists all agree that this is the land of the Jewish people. The labeling law is pure anti-Semitism. We believe this fight is our part to do for the Jewish people and for Israel. We have to fight the label ruling and I am sure that we will win.”