Rabbi Shmuley: Canada Attacks Israeli Wines While Exploiting Occupied Tibet

Israeli wines (Jalaa Marey / AFP / Getty)
Jalaa Marey / AFP / Getty

The Canadian government is reeling from a foiled attempt at a boycott of Israeli wines.

Last week, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), a Crown corporation with monopoly rights to the sale of alcohol in Ontario, sent a letter to all of its vendors forbidding them from selling wines from two leading Israeli vintners, the Psagot and Shilo Wineries.

The reason: their labels say “Product of Israel.” And since the wineries are located in the ancient biblical territories of Judea and Samaria, Canada will not allow them to write that.

According to LCBO Senior Advisor Vincent Caron, who penned the letter, the decision came from higher up in the Canadian government and originated from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The agency had decided that for a wine produced in a disputed territory of the West Bank to claim to be Israeli would “be considered misleading.” This despite the fact that the West Bank represents lands where the Israelite nation was born, where Jews have lived continuously for three thousand years, and which Israel captured in a defensive war with Jordan, in which it begged the latter not to attack.

After the Israeli government pointed out that Canada’s decision violated a bilateral trade agreement, Canada rescinded the ban. Since that time, some have tried to frame the event as just another case of bureaucratic red tape complications.

I have to disagree. It was, rather, a classic and unfortunate case of anti-Israel bias on the part of a government that is usually a strong Israeli ally.

Firstly, it is odd enough that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency would appoint itself the enforcer of international boundaries, especially since its official aim is, according to its website, is to “mitigate risks to public health associated with diseases and other health hazards in the food supply system.”

But worse than being odd, the agency’s decision was clearly based less on a desire to enforce Canadian law than on a blatant bias against Israel.

After all, it bears the two tell-tale trademarks of what might normally pass as antisemitism: namely, the enforcement of a double standard against the Jewish State; and, of course, blatant hypocrisy.

With regard to the double standard, the case is fairly clear: Israel is singled out, while other blatant offenders walk free. One need only skim some Canadian retail websites to see just how true that is.

Zatoun Fair-Trade Olive Oil is sold at nearly one hundred stores throughout Canada, and comes, as its label indicates, “from the hills of Palestine.” That is interesting, because Canada only supports a “Palestinian state, as part of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace settlement.” Until that peace settlement is reached, however, there is no Canadian-recognized State of Palestine, and Zatouns Palestine label should be considered misleading .

Nor does the Canadian government seem to care to clarify labels coming from Tibet, which has been occupied and brutalized by China for sixty-seven years.

In Canada, you can buy Earth Circle Organics’ Tibetan Plateau Goji Berries, which — though hailing from “The Tibetan Plateau” — are clearly marked as a product of China. 

By the way, with regard to Tibet, Canada doesn’t just ignore China’s brutal occupation — Canada actually exploits it.

China has abused the occupied lands of Tibet in the worst way that an occupying power can — namely, by mining. Mining in Tibet has not only robbed the Tibetan people of their resources, but it has polluted their water sources, destroyed their local grasslands, brought a severe risk of landslides, and irreversibly changed Tibet’s historic landscape.

Yet when it comes to mining Tibet, Canada is the undisputed world leader.

Following China’s 2007 announcement of vast deposits of copper, iron, lead, silver, lithium, and zinc throughout Tibet, a staggering seven Canadian companies jumped to develop mines in the territory, with most already actively mining by 2011. To be clear, they paid China, and not Tibet, for the mining rights.

While some Canadian mining companies would sell the rights of their newly-opened Tibetan mines back to Chinese companies, they did so only after they had already made phenomenal sums. For example, Canadian mining giant Hunter Dickinson  sold Continental Minerals, and with it the rights to a Tibetan mine, for almost half a billion dollars — the largest asset sale in the company’s thirty years of operation.

In 2011, the Chinese Minister of Land and Resources warned that the ecology of the Tibetan plateau is “extremely fragile.” His warnings, however, were ignored by Canadian and Chinese companies alike

In 2010, four Tibetans were murdered and 30 others hurt when Chinese mining officials opened fire on crowds protesting the expansion of mine operations in their sacred homeland. In 2013, further protests saw another Tibetan activist shot to death by police.

As if Canada couldn’t be more involved with the exploitation of Tibet, the creation of these mines was only made possible in 2006 with the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Rail Line, which allowed for the import of mining materials and machinery into Tibet. That rail line was made possible largely through the Bombardier Sifang Power Transportation company, a joint venture between three entities, two of which are Canadian. 

Canadian companies seem knee-deep in some pretty serious exploitation of an occupied territory in the world today. Yet, Canada didn’t seem nearly as worried about that as its was with checking the labels on Israeli wine. 

 While they might have failed this time around, those behind this bizarre action are likely to be back.

Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including Kosher Sex and Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.