Controversy over West Bank wine widens to question Canada-Israel Free Trade deal itself


What started as a simple complaint over appropriate labelling of wines from the West Bank now threatens to open up a wider debate over the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement itself. Read more…

There were probably “high-fives” in the offices of B’nai Brith Canada after Israel appeared to have dodged a bullet a week ago over the issue of West Bank wines. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency had demanded that the Ontario Liquor Control Board stop selling wines produced in the West Bank which were labelled “Product of Israel”. B’nai Brith and others vigorously protested the ruling, arguing that the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) allows products from areas Israel controls to be sold as “Product of Israel”. CFIA was embarassed, and quickly reversed its decision.

B’nai Brith eagerly claimed victory, both on its own website and to the media.

But B’nai Brith may be having second thoughts about using the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement as an argument as it has led others to examine the agreement itself.

“The Canadian government, the CFIA and the LCBO are well within their legal and trade treaty rights to insist that products from the occupied territories be clearly labelled as such. There is nothing in the CIFTA that prevents this,” argues Scott Sinclair a senior research fellow with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and director of the Centre’s Trade and Investment Research Project. “The whole trade argument is a red herring, simply an excuse to provide cover for the CFIA to backtrack under pressure”

Even more disturbing for B’nai Brith, there have also been calls for a re-examination of CIFTA itself because it raises a more profound question – can Canadian policy, and our international commitments, be circumvented by CIFTA or any other simple bilateral trade agreement?

Call for a serious re-examination

Back in 2015, there was little substantive debate in Canada when expanding CIFTA was proposed by the Harper government. At the time, supporters of BDS, the movement to boycott Israel, objected to the principle of having a free trade deal with Israel in any event. Not surprisingly their objections were ignored by Harper and by the opposition parties.

may-in-calgaryHowever, the B’nai Brith argument and the recent CFIA flipflop have now caught the attention of some political leaders.  Canada shouldn’t be granting preferential treatment to products made in settlements that are in clear violation of international law, says Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada . “The free trade agreement therefore must be changed to reflect this.”


Canada shouldn’t be granting preferential treatment to products made in settlements that are in clear violation of international law. The free trade agreement therefore must be changed to reflect this.

– Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada

This issue will be a tricky one for the Trudeau government and its lawyers. In 2000, Canada incorporated both the Statute of Rome and the Fourth Geneva convention, into domestic Canadian law. Under both statutes the settlements in the West Bank are “war crimes”. This raises the question over whether goods produced by Israeli settlers in the West Bank should be actually considered  as proceeds of crime under existing Canadian law

The Trudeau government is dodging this issue, but how long they will be able to continue isn’t clear. Canada’s willingness to adhere to decisions of the UN will almost certainly be a consideration when Canada makes formal application to join the UN Security Council next year. That body has said that “Israel’s settlements have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of International law”.  It called on all UN member states to “differentiate” between products originating in the Occupied Territories and those coming from Israel, which so far Canada has avoided doing.


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  1. Thanks Peter — good stuff.

    I think the paragraph in the UNSC resolution referenced in your last sentence can have a significant impact when read in full:

    Para 5. “Calls upon all States, bearing in mind paragraph 1 of this resolution, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967;”

    Except to defy the Security Council by resorting to an interpretation using linguistic gymnastics, Canada has no choice but to comply if it wants a faint hope of joining. This ought to be made clear to our UN Ambassador, and rather publically if necessary.

    1. Hey Nancy, your comment referring to “filthy occupiers” can be read (and in fact has been read by some) as anti-semitic. I do not approve of anti-semitism and CTIP wont allow anti-semitic remarks on its website. I would like to ask you to clarify your remarks.

  2. The BDS movement is saying that there is no difference between Jewish existence in Israel and the West Bank, both are illegal and both should be boycotted
    If Jews are occupiers everywhere between the river and the sea, than what’s the difference between the Israeli wine that you wrote should be boycotted last week and the West Bank wine that the LCBO is selling?
    My personal opinion is that West Bank products should not be marketed as Israeli products, i think that WB agricultural products are an unfair competition to Israeli farmers such as my family.

    but it’s a little ingenious on your side to say that you want to differentiate between the two but boycott them both regardless

    1. Hey Ahik, I am not sure if you are being honest or not. I haven’t seen anything in the BDS movement demands which says “Jewish existence in Israel and the West Bank are illegal”.

      Everybody knows that Jews have lived in that area for thousands of years (Jesus was a Jew, of course). Anybody who says Jews should not live there is a racist, in my books.

      But as I understand the BDS movement, it is saying (1) that Jews and non-Jews should have equal rights in Israel (not currently the case), (2) Israel should end its occupation of the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza, and (3) the refugees should have the right to return to their homes.

      BDS would agree with the world consensus that Jewish settlers on occupied land is illegal, of course. Please show me where BDS says Jewish existence in Israel is “illegal”.

  3. Please read the words of the lady above : “boycott everything coming from those filthy occupiers”

    Who do you think are those filthy occupiers?

    1. Hey Ahik, have you changed the topic? I asked you where BDS says that “Jewish existence in Israel is illegal”. Lets deal with that one, before we go on to the next one.

      1. Officially the BDS doesn’t say that, but most of the BDS supporters think that.
        Also, the third requirement of the BDS movement, the introduction into Israel of five million Lebanese, Syrians and Jordanian of Palestinian decent (who hate the state of Israel) is a de facto call for a Syrianization of Israel that will ultimately empty Israel of its Jewish population one way or another

  4. How in the world do you know what ‘most supporters of BDS” think? Or that what they really think is different from what it officially says?

      1. Hey Ahik, I am not a member of the BDS movement, and Canada Talks Israel Palestine has not endorsed it, although we have publicly defended it against spurious charges that it is anti-semitic. (For example, in a recent post, I explained to readers how BDS is focussed on a boycott of Israel, and not on Canadian Jews or their businesses.)

        Accordingly, I am not in a position to make any statements on their behalf.

        Based on what I read, the BDS movement has 3 demands, all of which are consistent with the official policy of the Government of Canada.
        – The first is the end of the occupation of ’67 and the blockade of Gaza,
        – The second is equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and
        – The third is the right of return for Palestinian refugees who (or whose families) were expelled from Israel and have been denied the right to return.

        I don’t believe that BDS argues that any Syrian, Lebanese, or Jordanian citizens have a right to return to mandate Palestine.

  5. The first two demands are perfectly reasonable and are also the the goals of the left Zionist parties (Labor, Meretz)
    The third demand is ” rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties ” with Palestinian refugee defined as “all the patrilineal descendants of the original Palestine refugees” that’s 5.1 million people who have been living in Lebanon,Syria, Gaza and Jordan for 3-4 generations

    Peter, you are a smart person and you have been to many of these places, don’t be disingenuous and suggest that the introduction of these 5 million people into Israel, and removing about 3 million Israelis from their residences to the streets will not spell the forcfull drive of Jews away from Israel

    1. Ahik, That is a perfectly reasonable question.

      I support the principle of the right to return. It is an individual right enshrined in international law.
      However, how the 5 million or so Palestinian refugees will want to exercise it will depend on a lot of things.

      I very doubt that many Palestinian refugees who are now citizens of Canada, will want to move back to Israel. They might well be satisfied with an apology. (Up to them, of course.)

      On the other hand, I expect that almost all of those in Gaza will want to return… unless of course they have a better option. Each family will make its own decision based on its options. Each situation is different.

      For argument’s sake, lets say that half of the 5 million will decide to return to live in historic Palestine. Would that be a catastrophe? Israel absorbed a million Russian immigrants after the fall of the soviet union. A man named Salman Abu Sitta has made one proposal for the creation of new Palestinian villages on the sites of many of the desstroyed villages that remain empty in Israel.

      Its clear that they couldn’t return over night – it will take a while to settle 2 million people, for them to find jobs, construct housing, etc.

      Dealing with conflicting property claims would of course take a lot of time. I don’t think it would be fair or reasonable to force Israelis “out onto the streets” – a process would have to be worked out. Something comparable happened in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism.

      1. You will not get a Canada or a Belgium out of that. Not even a Zimbabwe or a South Africa.

        That’s a recepie for Siryanization of the conflict.

        over the past six years the number of Syrians who died in that internal Syrian conflict is 8 times the number of Palestinian who died in 120 years of conflict and 20 times the number of Jews who died in that conflict.

      2. @Ahik

        The Syrian situation is totally irrelevant to the Israel/Palestine issue. Both situations need to be resolved. There is no reason that I/P should be ignored.

        You want boycotts against Syria? Irrelevant as there are sanctions against Syria. As there should be against Israel.

        You want to manufacture claims that you know what BDS ultimately mean or what people who support boycott want? Feel free. Don’t expect anyone with more than one active brain cell to take you seriously.

        International law is clear. Peter could have (and should have in my opinion) also made clear the ICJ opinion on economic relations with the settlements. And none of this bs about it being an advisory opinion which can therefore be ignored. That totally mistates what an advisory opinion represents. Advisory opinions state the current state of the law without ruling on a specific case (a non-advisory opinion).

        I used to support Israel. Then I support it within 67 lines. As Israel’s lust for territorial expansion grows my support for it fades.

        There must be a price for Israel’s violation of international law and international humanitarian law. Nothing less is appropriate.

  6. There are many ways that the Palestinian refugees right of return can be dealt with. First and foremost this right should be recognized by Israel and the International community, than a strong apology by Israel to follow. After a negotiation to take place how many would want to return or accept a suitable compensation.
    We should not forget that the European Jews got BILLIONS of dollars reparation money from Germany, a few survivors are still getting. (One reason many European Jews are very wealthy).

    Anyway the one who is taking, stealing, ethnic cleansing and oppressing is Israel, while all along people,(like you), are coming with any nonsensical reasons how to shield Israel.
    Israel is a criminal state and first should stop the injustices. Of course they will not stop because only in stae of of no peace, they can continue stealing the land.

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