Sweden’s state-run wines and spirits monopoly Systembolaget has backtracked on a controversial policy to label some Israeli wines as coming from 'occupied territory'
For a short period Israeli wines bearing the Golan and Yarden labels were being branded “Produce of Israeli-occupied Syrian territory” in the company's catalogues.
Systembolaget spokesperson, Bjorn Rydberg, said that the decision was taken following customer complaints about the label under which the wines were previously sold, which stated the wine was produced in Israel. He added that the decision to alter the labeling was taken following consultations with the Swedish Foreign Ministry.
However on June 9 the company announced it reversed the decision as it was “perceived as ‘political’ and negative by the customer group that can be assumed to be interested in buying such wines”.
The Systembolaget is the only store in Sweden which is allowed to sell drinks with alcohol content higher than 3.5 percent.
Before the cancellation, the labeling decision garnered opposition amongst a number of Swedish politicians.
Christian Democrat MP Annelie Enochsson, said she believed it was a result of a highly focused and political campaign by pro-Palestinian activists to force all Israeli products off the Swedish market.
These include the website palestinagrupperna.se which appealed to activists to “Write letters! Write to your local shop, to Systembolaget … or anyone else who sells or markets Israeli products.”
Rydberg maintained that the company was not trying to make a political statement, emphasizing “we have no foreign policy ambitions.”
Systembolaget MD, Anitra Steen claimed that when the subject of labelling the wines came up, the company “turned to the Foreign Office to ask what text the catalogue should carry.”
Peter Tejler, director of the Foreign Office’s Middle East and North Africa Unit, explained that the initiative for marking the wine from Israel originated from Systembolaget.
“They asked us how we view the legal status of the Golan Heights, and we gave Sweden’s view. We have no opinion whatsoever regarding the wording of their presentation,” said Tejler, adding that this was the first time he had ever encountered a query from Systembolaget regarding labeling of drinks produced in the Middle East.
Reprinted with permission of European Jewish Press