(photo credit: www.systembolaget.se)
Sweden's state-owned alcohol retail monopoly, Systembolaget, has labeled Israeli Golan and Yarden wines as "made in Israel-occupied Syrian territories."
According to the company's spokesman, Bjorn Rydberg, the decision was made after clients complained about the previous label, which stated the wine was made in Israel. The change was made after the company consulted with the Swedish Foreign Ministry.
"It's the ministry's recommendation that we are following," Rydberg said. However, "because of the criticism, we will consider changing the label again," he said.
Although Swedish Foreign Minister Jan Eliasson and his Israeli counterpart, Tzipi Livni met recently to discuss the visa granted to Hamas, some tension still remains over the labelling issue.
In April, Sweden pulled out of a European military exercise because of Israeli participation. And in May, Sweden hosted Hamas minister Atef Adwan. Adwan, who was invited by local politicians, was granted a visa to visit Sweden, which he also used to visit other European countries.
Systembolaget's decision is "upsetting and unfair," said Annelia Enochson, from Sweden's Christian Democratic Party. "It means Israel receives special treatment, and it also politicizes the state-owned alcohol company."
Rydberg maintained that the company was not trying to make a political statement. "We have no foreign policy ambitions," he said.
Systembolaget was created in the 19th century to minimize alcohol-related problems by selling alcohol in a responsible way. According to Systembolaget, alcohol consumption in Sweden, which used to be among the highest in Europe, is now among the lowest because of the principle of no private profit from alcohol sales. The company offers about 3,000 brands of beer, wine and spirits including five Israeli wines, and its catalogue is considered one of the most extensive in the world.
Although the alcohol system isn't always convenient for consumers, who can't buy alcohol in regular shops, the majority of Swedes support it. Nonetheless, the company's image has been marred recently by scandal.
In the past year, some employees were found guilty of bribery, and the managing director, who is the prime minister's wife, was given a generous pension deal that broke government guidelines.