A federal judge in Canada ruled earlier this week in favor of pro-Palestine activists that wines produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank should not be able to carry “Product of Israel” labels.
The landmark ruling in Kattenburg vs. Attorney General of Canada was decided by Justice Anne Mactavish, who said in her decision that labeling settlement wines, made in the occupied West Bank, as products of Israel was “false, misleading and deceptive.”
Dr. David Kattenburg, an educator, social justice advocate, and longtime pro-Palestine activist, said he was overjoyed when the judge ruled in his favor on Tuesday, July 29th.
“We hit it out of the park,” he told Mondoweiss, adding that while he had faith in the Canadian justice system, he was anticipating a loss. “I was incredibly happy when I read the judge’s decision.”
Judge Mactavish’s decision stated the following:
“While there is profound disagreement between those involved in this matter as to the legal status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, I do not need to resolve that question in this case. Whatever the status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank may be, all of the parties and interveners agree that the settlements in issue in this case are not part of the State of Israel. Consequently, labelling the settlement wines as “Products of Israel” is both inaccurate and misleading, with the result that [the decision by the Complaints & Appeals Office (CAO) of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)] affirming that settlement wines may be so labelled was unreasonable.”
She went on to affirm that “one peaceful way in which people can express their political views is through their purchasing decisions. To be able to express their views in this manner, however, consumers have to be provided with accurate information as to the source of the products in question.”
Mactavish concluded that due to their “misleading” nature, the labelling must be changed, a decision she left up to the CFIA.
“Canadian citizens, citizens in free societies have a right to truthful information upon which they can behave responsibly in democratic societies,” Kattenburg told Mondoweiss. “And the judge ruled that false labeling infringes on that right to exercise conscious consumer choices.”
“That’s why this decision is so amazing,” he said. “It reinforced the fact that Israel does not have the right to violate international law and conceal its violations to people who wish to hold them accountable.”
Years in the making
The judge’s decision on Tuesday was a long time coming for Kattenburg, who first filed a complaint back in 2017 to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), one of the world’s largest buyers and sellers of alcohol, when he noticed that the retailer was selling two brands of settlement wine labeled as products of Israel.
“I thought, Israel is staking claims of sovereignty over stolen land on Canadian store shelves,” Kattenburg told Mondoweiss. “This is how I interpreted the ‘Product of Israel’ designation.”
But after getting no response from the LCBO, Kattenburg decided to file a complaint with the CFIA. After six months of deliberation, the CFIA announced its position that, yes, the wines were mislabelled.
The CFIA quickly reversed its decision, however, after immense pressure from Israeli government officials and pro-Israel organizations in Canada. Kattenburg called the quick reversal “obscene.”
So Kattenburg appealed the decision, only to be rejected. When he exhausted all other legal avenues, he filed his suit in federal court with the assistance of Attorney Dimitri Lascaris, who took the case pro bono.
When asked what motivated him to take the issue up to federal court, Kattenburg told Mondoweiss that he couldn’t ignore the fact that by allowing the LCBO to stock shelves with mislabeled settlement wine, “Canada, which declares settlements illegal, was essentially endorsing Israel’s annexation of the West Bank.”
“That was outrageous to me,” Kattenburg said. “These labels are not anodyne designations, like ‘product of France’ or ‘product of Chile’.”
“Labeling settlement wines as products of Israel is clearly a political statement, that ‘this land belongs to the Jews and is Israeli land.’”
The judge’s decision is being celebrated by Kattenburg and other pro-Palestine activists as a huge win for global Palestinian advocacy.
“In effect, the federal court ruled that, without explicitly mentioning BDS, that boycotts are perfectly legitimate, and false misleading and deceptive labeling infringes on that right, which is amazing!” Kattenburg told Mondoweiss.
By saying that Canadians have the right to choose to purchase goods based on beliefs that are political and ethical in nature, the ruling “constitutes an endorsement of boycotts,” he said.
“This is huge for Palestinian activism in Canada, and around the world,” Kattenburg said, highlighting similar efforts being taken in the EU against the mislabeling of Israeli settlement wines.
“Some people think ‘oh it’s just wine labelling, what does it really matter? How is this going to promote peace and justice in Palestine? But i think it’s a pivotal development. It drives a major wedge into Israel’s settlement enterprise.”
Kattenburg acknowledged that it will “take a whole lot more than judicial decisions like this to reverse Israel’s creeping annexation of the West Bank.”
“But pronouncements like this consolidate the view within the international legal community that settlements are flagrantly illegal and without effect.”
The fight continues
While Kattenburg is celebrating the court’s decision as a huge win, he knows the fight isn’t over yet.
The government has until September to file an appeal, and with federal elections coming up and continued pressure from the Israeli lobby, Kattenburg believes they are likely to appeal the judge’s decision.
NPR quoted Shimon Koffler Fogel, President and CEO of the Canadian-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, as saying the judge’s ruling featured “substantive errors.”
“Current labelling practices are fully consistent with the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, as well as Canadian and international law. This is why we are urging the Government of Canada to appeal this misguided ruling,” NPR quoted Fogel as saying, adding that the CEO “plans to consult with legal experts and seek intervenor status should the case be appealed.”
Kattenburg says he hopes that if the case goes up to the federal court of appeals, that the court uphold Judge Mactavish’s ruling.
“Truthful settlement labeling constitutes more than just correct labeling,” he told Mondoweiss. “It it constitutes or embodies a statement that the West Bank is not in fact a part of Israel, that the settlements are illegal, and that economic aid and support for the settlement enterprise is illegal under international law, and citizens have the right to act on that information.”
Kattenburg told Mondoweiss that he, along with his lawyers, are gearing up for a battle in the appeals court, promising to fight until the end.
“But we need people’s support,” he said, urging supporters of his case and the Palestinian cause to donate to his GoFundMe campaign, called “Label the Occupation.” The money will be spent on legal costs, while any unused funds will be donated to not-for-profit Palestinian solidarity organizations in Canada.