Dr. Dawg

"Product of Israel"

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West Bank wine.jpg

A junior employee of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency finds himself in hot water for sending a letter to the Ontario Liquor Commission of Ontario stating that wine produced in the occupied territories of Palestine is not to be labelled “Product of Israel.” The LCBO then informed its stores of the ruling.

This produced the predictable whining from the Usual Suspects. The Israeli Embassy got involved, calling it “politicization.” And a spokesman for the indefatigable B’nai Brith Canada, Marty York, demanded that the employee be “disciplined.”

Needless to say, the CFIA reversed course in a matter of hours, and stated that the employee had “made a mistake.”

The Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) allegedly permits the mislabelling. In fact, it appears to state the opposite: To qualify under CIFTA, a good must be “wholly obtained or produced entirely in the territory of one or both of the Parties.”

But wait. The definition of “territory” in CIFTA contains a cunning bit of legerdemain: it is defined, not as the formal state territory, but as the area over which a party exerts customs control. As an occupying power, it is Israel that imposes that control over the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the prison-house of Gaza, and the Golan Heights. VoilĂ ! Israel’s “territory,” for the purposes of CIFTA, includes Palestine.

Now, in case anyone needs reminding, the West Bank and other occupied territories are not formally part of Israel. Under international law, the territories remain distinct: Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016), reaffirming numerous earlier Resolutions, calls upon all States to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” Indeed, annexing all or part of these territories is a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention: Article 49(6) states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies,” of which the expanding settlement program is in open defiance. Canada’s expressed position is, at least on paper, aligned with that of the United Nations.

Under the dubious cover of CIFTA, however, Canada is now effectively subverting international law by sleight of hand, permitting the labelling of products manufactured in the occupied territories as “products of Israel.” This is egregiously underhanded and wrong.

The interpretation by the “low-level employee” of CFIA, on the other hand, is squarely backed by international law. Yet he or she is the one facing possible discipline for stating the obvious. If there is to be any discipline, I would suggest that the higher-ups who countermanded his or her ruling be required to attend a remedial law course or two.

The politics here, of course, which have seemingly led Canada to flout UN resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention, are that identifying products as being from the occupied territories might make it easier for people so inclined to boycott them—analogous to some degree to the anti-labelling lobby by GMO-content food producers. But here there is a distinction to be made: the latter lobby does not demand that misleading labels be substituted. Here, contrary to the CFIA’s own written policy, which the junior employee was conscientiously applying, the order has come down to permit labelling duplicity based upon the slippery wording of CIFTA.

Those of us who have been critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories have frequently been criticized for “singling out Israel” or applying a double standard by which we allegedly judge Israel by higher standards than we do other nations. But this is the first case that I am aware of where the government agency in charge of food labelling has ordered its staff, but only in the case of Israel, to disregard a policy that applies everywhere else. There does appear to be a double standard in play here, but it’s the reverse of the one of which we have been accused.

Let’s have one standard and one standard only. Truth in labelling is too important a concept to be “politicized.” Anyone disagree?

Photocredit: Garrett Mills/Flash 90 Photo

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on July 14, 2017 12:56 PM.

Abdirahman Abdi: Justice denied in Ottawa was the previous entry in this blog.

Ottawa Police violence against women: one swallow doesn't make a summer is the next entry in this blog.

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