A worker at Golan Heights Winery. Photo: Reuters/Yonathan Weitzman.
By Erik Hagen
This English translation was published 15 June 2010.
In the autumn of 2008 Norwatch revealed that the state-owned Norwegian wine and spirit monopoly, Vinmonopolet, sold red wine from the Golan Heights. Even though Norway does not recognise the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, the wine was marketed as “Israeli” on the store shelves.
Despite disclosure of this trade, the Norwegian purchase of wine from the occupied heights has continued up until today. Vinmonopolet ‘solved the problem’ in 2008 by changing the name tags on the shelves. In the spring of 2009 the red wine (right) was no longer labelled as from Israel but as “Other origin, Galilee”.
With that, the state store swept the problem under the carpet. Galilee is an Israeli designation for the northern areas of Israel and is a term that is not utilised by the Syrians. Golan is a Syrian territory that was occupied in 1967.
Norwatch has now discovered that the import has increased and that the incorrect labelling has returned. Yet another wine from Golan has sneaked its way onto Vinmonopolet’s lists – with the Israeli flag on the shelf tag.
On Vinmonopolet’s web pages one may now search for the white wine Yarden Chardonnay, which is produced by the same Israeli settlement company that Norwatch exposed in 2008, Golan Heights Winery. This too is labelled “Israel”.
Find the wine on Vinmonopolet’s web pages here.
Consequently, Vinmonopolet today sells two wines from the Golan Heights. The red one is labelled “Other origin, Galilee”. The new white wine is labelled “Israel”. But both are misleading: the wine is from an area that Israel occupies.
When Norwatch interviewed Vinmonopolet in 2008, the import was justified on the grounds that some customer groups in Norway demanded kosher wine and that Vinmonopolet was not familiar with other suppliers of such wine in the rest of the world.
The error in the label originated with the wholesaler, according to Vinmonopolet.
“There is no doubt that Golan is an area that is occupied by Israel. But we abide by the information supplied by the wholesaler,” communications leader Halvor Bing Lorentzen said at that time.
Vinmonopolet stated that they have a responsibility to their customers with regard to the wine from the occupied areas being labelled correctly.
“Yes, even though it was the wholesaler who labelled it as Israeli, we ourselves are responsible for the contents on the lists,” Bing Lorentzen stated before the country of origin of the first occupation wine was renamed as “Galilean”.
When Norwatch confronted Vinmonopolet with the fact that yet another wine from the occupied areas has been labelled as Israeli, they apologised for the repeated blunder and said that they will ensure that it is labelled in the same manner as the first wine.
“Do Vinmonopolet believe that importing from the settlements on occupied land entails ethical problems?” Norwatch queried.
“Yes, one could say so. We have chosen not to have an independent political point of view on this but rather abide by what the Norwegian authorities recommend. As of today there is no official Norwegian boycott of products from this area, and we comply with the guidelines in force at that point in time,” Bing Lorentzen stated.
“Do you believe that it is more correct to label the wine as coming “from Galilee” than “from Israel”? Isn’t that two sides of the same story?”
“The solution we have chosen is to remove the country of origin as Israel, so that it is not categorised under that country. Instead, we have placed it in “Other origin”.”
“But Galilee is nevertheless an Israeli designation?”
“We have chosen to remove the country of origin.”
No Customs Cheating
Just a few weeks ago Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre stated in the Norwegian Parliament that Golan is not a part of Israel and that products from the area are not covered by the free trade agreement Norway has with Israel through their EFTA collaboration.
The problem of incorrectly labelled products from occupied countries has clear similarities with the case of fish oil from Western Sahara. Earlier this year Paul-Chr. Rieber, then president of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, had to resign from his office after it became known that fish oil from Western Sahara had been incorrectly labelled in two ways: both country of origin and area of application were incorrectly declared to the customs authorities. The Moroccan fish oil is duty-free in accordance with the EFTA collaboration, but the Sahrawi oil that is to be used as animal feed in Norway is not. By incorrectly labelling Sahrawi fish oil as Moroccan and, in addition, incorrectly declaring the area of application in Norway, the fish oil importer has evaded a yearly customs bill for millions of Norwegian kroner.
There will not be similar customs consequences for Vinmonopolet when they incorrectly label the Golan-produced wine as Israeli. Import of wine to Norway is in fact duty-free, no matter which country or area in the world one imports from. Consequently, Norway’s EFTA collaboration with Israel will not be put to use.
The volume of wine imported from Israel has never been especially extensive. 2010 nevertheless looks like a peak year. Figures from Statistics Norway show that so far this year wine for a value of 64,000 Norwegian kroner has been imported from “Israel”. This is double as much as the average for the past 6-year period.
Vinmonopolet AS is owned by the Norwegian Ministry of Health and Social Affairs.