Update, Dec. 13, 2021: Over 25 organizations join statement calling out the BC government for profiting off Israeli war crimes
Don’t Drink with Apartheid: From South Africa to Palestine!
Vancouver, Canada has a long and proud tradition of supporting Palestinian rights and honouring boycott campaigns. For over a decade, activists have been engaging in a boycott of Israeli wines in publicly-owned provincial liquor stores under the slogan – Don’t Drink with Apartheid. The campaign launched in early 2008 after the former Canada Israel Committee announced to much fanfare that it had succeeded in bringing “Israel’s top wineries to British Columbia”.
The initial campaign coincided with Nakba60 and that connection was the foundation of the first public statement. The statement, endorsed by a wide variety of both local and international groups, read:
“On this 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, the Israeli government has announced plans to ‘rebrand’ its 60 years of dispossession and ethnic cleansing. Here in B.C., the focus of this ‘rebranding’ is the promotion of wines under an Israeli label in B.C. liquor stores…
We say 60 years of ‘rebranding’ is enough; 60 years of dispossession, exile and the destruction of a whole nation are enough. Send this message to the Israeli government, and to our local and national politicians. As the South African campaigners said many years ago outside BC liquor stores, then as now, DON’T DRINK WITH APARTHEID!”
The link with the South African anti-apartheid campaign was more than just rhetoric. There had previously been an active and diverse group in Vancouver that had stood in front of the exact same liquor stores, leafletting and calling for the removal of South African wines; the slogan of Don’t Drink with Apartheid belonged to them.
The introduction of Israeli wines in BC and across Canada was the spearhead of a broader effort to bring Israeli products into Canadian retail outlets, a process expedited by the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement. Thus, it was not surprising that the nascent Boycott Israeli Wines was immediately attacked by the Zionist lobby; and was targeted by the infamous “Buycott Israel”, that called on its supporters to rush out and over-buy whatever product was targeted in the early consumer boycotts. The Canada Israel Committee CIC aggressively came out to harass the Vancouver pickets on multiple occasions in 2008; one of their recruits, after buying his bottle of “Israeli” wine insisted to go to several of the picketers, including a Jewish-American visitor, to say, “I’m going to drink this wine and watch Palestinian mothers on TV crying over their dead children and men”.
Phase two of the campaign was timed to relaunch with the commemoration of Nakba68; by then, social media was a bigger factor in political activism and the Zionist lobby was even more ruthless in its attempts to silence the voices of the campaigners. After an in-store flash action video released in August 2016 quickly garnered tens of thousands of views, hundreds of vicious comments were posted on the Boycott Israeli Wines FB page within the space of 48 hours. The attacks were clearly aimed at shutting down both the page and the campaign in general; others included foul racist language and threats of physical repercussions against those participating in the pickets and action.
Since the Israeli wines are of course certified as kosher, the Zionist lobby attempted to use this issue to deflect criticism and further bolster the bogus “anti-Semitism” smear. However, BC liquor stores carry 13 varieties of kosher wine, only 6 of which come from Israel. The others are sourced from the U.S., France, Spain and Italy; in fact, two of those brands seem to be the best sellers and more popular, according to inventory statistics on the official liquor store website.
Although the campaign was always clear that it was targeting all Israeli wines, the Israeli wines carried in BC stores have consistently been linked to the Israeli settlement enterprise, either in occupied Palestine or the Syrian Golan Heights. The wines currently on shelves are from partners/affiliates of the Golan Heights Winery or the Teperberg Winery, which provides a map on its website showing vineyards in the occupied West Bank. One of the Teperberg vineyards is in the illegal Israeli settlement of Mevo Horon according to the progressive Israeli research group “Who Profits”. This particular settler enclave is in the Latrun area of the occupied Palestinian West Bank and is close to the infamous “Canada Park” built by the Jewish National Fund on the rubble of 3 Palestinian villages with Canadian tax-deductible monies.
Over the years, the Boycott Israeli Wines campaign has grown in BC, and the capital city Victoria has also held multiple pickets with the same message. Stickering campaigns have also been popular and a photo of one such effort caught the attention of Israeli media. Meanwhile, in other parts of Canada, a complaint was launched to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency CFIA regarding the labelling of Israeli settlement wines as “Made in Israel” products. A lengthy legal battle ensued, which first involved a favourable court ruling that stated such labelling was “false, misleading and deceptive”; that judgement was then appealed by the Canadian government, and the issue is now back where it all began – at the desk of CFIA.
Recently, campaigners have organized several Boycott Tours of downtown Vancouver which have included stops at BC Liquor Stores. These actions are bringing the Don’t Drink with Apartheid message to a whole new generation of motivated supporters.
Earlier this year, the New Democratic Party NDP of Canada passed a resolution that committed in part to end “all trade and economic cooperation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine”. As activists noted on April 19, 2021, after sending a letter to the Finance Minister in BC’s NDP provincial government:
The sale of wines from illegal Israeli settlements in BC and Canadian liquor stores has been an ongoing travesty for over a decade; there is no better place for the NDP to implement its new policy (and for)… action to finally be taken on this issue. In September 2018, thirty-one organizations already told the BC government: “We do not wish to be made complicit in these violations of international law”.
However, organizers are not waiting nor hoping for any level of government in Canada to take a bold move on this issue. Not the federal government which, despite the occasional photo-op of diplomatic staff demonstrating “concern” for Palestinians, is deeply complicit in enabling Israel’s accumulated war crimes. And not the BC provincial government which, despite its “progressive” mantle, has already betrayed most of its commitments on the environment and indigenous rights.
Activists are counting on the growing support of people in BC and Canada who are becoming acutely aware of Israeli oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people and are willing to speak out and demand that Israel finally be held accountable!
By Marion Kawas, published in al Mayadeen English
Don’t Drink with Apartheid: From South Africa to Palestine! | Al Mayadeen English