BREAKING: West Bank Wine Case Shuts Out Interveners

Oct. 8, 2020

Jewish advocacy groups will not have a say in the case of the wine labels from Israel.

In a recent ruling, a Federal Court judge denied intervener status to a dozen organizations that sought input in the ongoing challenge to wines made in the West Bank but labeled as “Product of Israel.”

Psagot Winery

They included the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights.

One of wineries at the centre of the case, Psagot Winery Ltd., was added to the case as a respondent, but the court said its participation “must be limited.”

At issue in the case is whether wines produced by the Psagot and Shiloh wineries in West Bank Jewish settlements can be labeled as “Product of Israel” under Canadian law.

Last year, a Federal Court judge found that “made in Israel” labels on settlement wines are “false, misleading and deceptive” because international law does not recognize the West Bank as part of Israel, and that Canadians have a right shop “conscientiously.” She returned the case to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s appeals board for further consideration.

The government appealed her ruling. But before the appeal could be heard, a judge dismissed everyone who wanted to weigh in on the case, saying, in effect, that the court will not be drawn into a battle over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his ruling, Federal Court of Appeal Judge David Stratas said that “a number” of parties wishing to intervene wanted to address “Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including the status of the West Bank, the territorial sovereignty of Israel, human rights and humanitarian concerns, issues of international law, and other related issues. Many of them appear to want this Court to rule on the merits of these issues.

“But there is one basic problem,” the judge wrote. “This appeal does not raise the merits of these issues.”

He said the case should properly rest on Canadian laws regulating the labeling of food and drugs, which are designed to protect consumers. There is “nothing to suggest,” Stratas said, that these laws “were enacted to address state occupation of territories and, in particular, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.”

The Israel/West Bank issue “is a controversial one, with many differing views and deeply-felt opinions on all sides,” the judge went on. However, it is not “useful” for the appeals court to hear the interveners.

In addition to CIJA and B’nai Brith, Stratas dismissed requests to intervene from Independent Jewish Voices, the Centre for Free Expression, Amnesty International Canada, Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, Prof. Michael Lynk (the UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights), the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association, the Transnational Law and Justice Network, and Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights, Al-Haq.

Independent Jewish Voices and B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights were interveners in the Federal Court case.

Stratas also took aim at other judges who “give the impression that they decide cases based on their own personal preferences, politics and ideologies. Increasingly, they wander into the public square and give virtue signalling and populism a go.”

The judge said he didn’t want to be too hard on the prospective interveners, saying he suspects that some of them were “lured” to the appeal “by torqued-up press reports distorting what the Federal Court decided. And once one group applies to intervene on a controversial issue like this, others feel they also have to apply.”

The Psagot winery, about 20 kilometers northeast of Jerusalem in an Israeli settlement of the same name, was added to the case as a respondent because the court should have notified it of the case, said the judge. The court said the winery was “never invited” to join the case but should have been, and that it found out about the matter from media reports.

The winery “is pleased to have been granted the opportunity to be a party to this important legal proceeding,” said its lawyers, David Elmaleh and Aaron Rosenberg of the Toronto firm RE-LAW.

The firm’s website leaves little doubt about how it feels when it comes to the winery’s legal status:

“Psagot Winery’s wines are produced by Israelis under the auspices of an Israeli company in an Israeli community on Israeli land subject to Israeli law, in the State of Israel, and in the Land of Israel. Its wines are products of Israel.”

In a statement to the CJR, David Matas, legal counsel to the League for Human Rights, found fault with Stratas’ “over-generalizations.”

Also, this ruling was made by a single judge. “Yet the appeal itself will be heard, presumably, by a panel of three judges. The other two members of the panel might disagree with this judge on many of the statements he made.”

Interveners may ask the court to reconsider its decision within 10 days of the ruling, but “it is too early for B’nai Brith Canada to decide whether we will or will not do so.”

The case goes back to 2017, when Winnipeg resident David Kattenburg raised concerns with Ontario’s liquor board that products from the two wineries were from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, not from Israel itself, and were deceptively labeled as “Product of Israel.”

He then complained to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which sided with him. However, after Jewish groups protested, the agency abruptly reversed course, saying the wines could be sold under the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.

Kattenburg appealed to the agency’s Complaints and Appeals Office, which upheld the reversal. He then sought a judicial review at the Federal Court.

The court sided with Kattenburg, and Jewish groups urged an appeal based on what they said were errors committed by the judge. The government agreed. Due to delays brought about by COVID, it is not clear when the matter will be heard.

* The above clarifies that the Psagot winery was added to this case as a respondent, not an internever.

– By CJR Staff

Editorial: Joining Together to Battle Hate

Oct. 6, 2020

Mainstream Jewish and Muslim organizations join human rights groups, anti-hate communities, and peace and labour organizations, all working toward one goal. Impossible?

The joining of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and two dozen other faith-based and ethno-cultural groups might have once seemed a lofty goal, perhaps even unattainable.

And then came a maelstrom: Nazis and white supremacists openly rallying in the United States; murders at mosques and synagogues; right-wing extremist attacks in Canadian cities; reports by experts of hundreds of new hate groups in Canada; and, of course, COVID.

The world changed in the blink of an eye. It became a much more dangerous place, especially if you are Muslim, Jewish, Asian, LGBTQ+, or a person of colour.

Police, of course, investigate crime, but still seem to find it difficult to wrap their heads around hate crime. While anti-hate laws exist, they are rarely invoked, and when they are, investigations can take an incredibly long time. For example, the conviction of those behind Your Ward News, a hateful, antisemitic, misogynistic publication, took five years from the date of the first complaint against it. This was unacceptable for targeted groups.

No amount of group advocacy moved the needle. Indeed, things got worse. Reports began to circulate that the Canadian military harboured numerous recruits who were members of well-known hate groups or had been recently radicalized online. A new political party, the Canadian National Party – racist, deeply antisemitic, and parroting Nazi rhetoric of emptying Canada of Jews – was accorded official party status, allowing it to issue tax receipts for charitable deductions.

Then, just a few weeks ago, Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, a caretaker at a downtown Toronto mosque, was brutally murdered while monitoring those entering the building. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (chaired by CJR publisher Bernie Farber) revealed that the alleged killer has ties to a satanic neo-Nazi organization.

And still no action from any level of government.

Mustafa Farooq, the newly minted executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), decided to do something. Farooq called upon civil society players, through their organizations, to come together and demand better, demand protection, demand change.

As a result, a “Call to Action” was organized by Mustafa through the offices of NCCM. A myriad of human rights groups and faith communities have now signed on to a public letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (found here).

The World Sikh Organization, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Amnesty International, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Baha’i community of Canada, and the African Canadian National Council, are just some of the 26 signatories. Individually, some of these groups don’t play well together in the sandbox, but here, all have recognized the danger by speaking in one loud voice.

These Canadians are demanding from their government that the hundreds of white supremacist, alt right, and neo-Nazi groups be disbanded; for better legal tools, including improved use of anti-terrorism laws for domestic hate groups; better enforcement of laws for social media sites to ensure heavy fines against platforms like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok for disseminating hate, and much more. Civil society, now joined in all its facets, has had enough.