Sweet wine-ripened Tali grapes. .
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Israel’s Barkan winery asked employees who are of Ethiopian descent to transfer to jobs where they would not touch the wine, according to an explosive report aired Monday night on the Israeli Public Broadcaster.
The winery feared that some of the Ethiopian workers were not considered fully Jewish under strict, ultra-Orthodox rabbinical standards. Under Jewish law, non-Jews are not allowed to prepare kosher wine.
According to media reports from public broadcaster Kan, the kosher certification for Barkan came under possible threat by the body of rabbis responsible for ensuring kosher food preparation.
Politicians from across the political spectrum denounced the move by Barkan and called for a consumer boycott. The Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef also condemned the winery.
“There is no explanation for such a directive except pure racism,” Yosef said. “Ethiopian immigrants are Jews in every respect,” having been deemed Jewish by officials since the 1970s.
Multiple Ethiopian workers spoke to Kan and the Israeli media about the alleged discrimination by Barkan.
I touched the wine, and the supervisor ran, took it from me and smashed it in front of my face,” said Uri Almanach, a worker at the processing factory.
Another employee claimed: “Every Jew who arrives – the next day he works in wine [but] we do not. Why – am I a different kind?”
A number of consumers posted on social media declaring their intention to boycott Barkan until its policy changes.
A third employee at Barkan, identified as Yosef, added: “I am humiliated, and there is such racism... Everyone is working there [in wines] – is that not the case? Why am I unusual and removed from there?”
The chief kashrut supervisor at the Barkan Winery, Yosef Promovitch, told Yediot Aharonot that “there are Ethiopians who know that they are Jews – who have undergone conversion – and there are Ethiopians who are not, who are questionable.”
The Barkan supervisor added that as a blanket rule, workers of Ethiopian origin could not touch wine. “The Badatz [kosher certification agency] is not willing to accept Ethiopians.”
Located in Kibbutz Hulda, the Barkan winery is one of the largest in Israel.
Ethiopian-Israelis number around 150,000, and the group has traditionally faced workplace discrimination.