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The unabashedly Land-of-Israel winery marks record sales in the US and is now selling to Christian supporters alongside the traditional American Jewish market.

Psagot Winery (photo credit: Courtesy)
Psagot Winery
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘If I was afraid of the boycott, I would need to find a different story, but this is our story,” says Yaakov Berg, the founder of the Psagot Winery in the West Bank.
Perched 900 meters above sea level on the windswept hills north of Jerusalem, the winery – with its trademark Second Temple-era coin replicated on every bottle – is unapologetically vintage Land of Israel and takes special pride in its location, as well as its history.
“Our goal is not just to make the best wine we can, but to connect people to our story, the connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel,” Berg says.
“Everyone talks about Jerusalem, but Jerusalem comes relatively late in our history. The Kingdom of Israel started in the hills around us.”
Nonetheless, today it is the city of Ramallah and the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority that abut the colorful limestone terraces that make up the ancient vineyard. And today it is the Psagot Winery and similar Israeli-owned business throughout the West Bank that are increasingly facing an economic boycott due to their location. Indeed, just last month, more than a dozen European foreign ministers called for the labeling of goods produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The diplomats from 16 countries, including the UK, France, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain, signed a letter urging EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to start the process.
A previous effort to have the 28-member EU – Israel’s largest trading partner – label settlement goods was put on hold by the former EU foreign policy chief in 2013 at the request of US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was trying to restart long-stalled Israeli- Palestinian peace talks.
According to Berg, the commonly known Boycott Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign, launched a decade ago to pressure Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian territories, did not in fact begin in America or in Europe, but started right here in Israel as the brainchild of the settlement watchdog group Peace Now.
“You can believe that the settlements are bad, you can want to give the land to the Palestinians, but why not do something positive for them instead of just trying to destroy and to tear down?” he asks.
He notes that over the last several years, he has also experienced difficulty getting his internationally award-winning wines served at restaurants in Tel Aviv when they learn the location of the winery, and has even had problems getting some Israeli wine critics to include his wines in their reviews.
“The minute they hear it is wine from Psagot, they cancel their orders, with some restaurant owners telling us right up front that they do not want to offend their left-wing clientele,” he says.
Some Tel Aviv restaurants have confirmed that they do, in fact, have a policy of not purchasing products from settlements in the West Bank.
“Our policy is very clear: We do not work with wines from the occupied territories,” says Maoz Alonim, owner of the city’s Basta restaurant. “We do not purchase goods across the Green Line [the 1949 armistice line] as well,” says Oren Luxenburg, manager of Italian restaurant Pronto, adding that most of his wines come from France and Italy.
Other Tel Aviv eateries, including Toto, Joz ve Loz and Messa, have declined to comment.
Ironically, says Berg, some of the Tel Aviv merchants are themselves now facing international boycotts, since they are Israeli companies. “It starts with a boycott of Judea and Samaria,” he says, “and the next step is to boycott all of Israel.”
Peace Now general-director Yariv Oppenheimer says that while the organization supports a boycott of products from the territories for ideological reasons, that is not the group’s main agenda.
“We believe that someone who purchases products from the territories is making a political statement and is financially supporting the settlements,” he explains. “Someone who makes his business in the territories is also making a political decision.”
He adds, however, that “we are not making a campaign out of it, since this is not the way to convince the Israeli public.”
The group had publicly called for a boycott of settlement products, including wine from Psagot and mushrooms from Tekoa, after the Knesset passed an anti- boycott law in 2011 – which was largely upheld by the Supreme Court last month – in response to the international boycott movement against settlement goods. Under the law, anyone calling for a boycott of Israel or the settlements can be sued for damages. The law also bars the government from doing business with those who call for a boycott.
While Israeli officials have downplayed the impact of the international boycott campaign, West Bank entrepreneurs, settler leaders and farmers say that the campaign abroad has had a major impact on their exports, especially to Western Europe.
They lambaste the government for turning a blind eye to their travails.
“The noise made by the boycott is much larger than the reality on the ground,” says Yigal Dilmoni, spokesman for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, which represents the 350,000 settlers living in the West Bank. “The headlines in the newspapers are much larger than what is in fact happening.”
He says there has been a 5-percent to 8% decrease in export-driven income as a result of the boycott of West Bank goods, while the boycott within the country has been “totally marginal.”
About 800 medium to large Israeli companies operate in the West Bank, he says, noting that there is ongoing demand for industrial land among entrepreneurs.
But the head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, David Elhayani, which represents about 7,000 Israelis in the valley’s 21 communities, views the boycott’s effect differently. He says the burgeoning international boycott has caused enormous economic damage for the region’s farmers, who export 80% of their produce.
“We are almost not selling agricultural products to Western Europe anymore,” he says.
Elhayani notes that what began with labeling settlement products in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the Netherlands has now mushroomed throughout Western Europe and caused Jordan Valley farmers to search for new markers for their products – specifically the lower-paying Russian market, where produce sells for much less than in Europe, even since before the recent collapse of the ruble.
As a result of the loss of the Western European market, he says, the Jordan Valley farmers are taking a 25% drop in export- driven income, with a loss of about NIS 150 million annually.
“The State of Israel is not taking responsibility for the boycott,” he laments. “It is as if they do not know that the boycott exists.”
Other industrialists are feeling the heat from a Palestinian boycott of their products.
“The PA boycotts me, while my industry is a lifeline for peace and coexistence and provides a blessing for the Palestinian economy,” says Yehuda Cohen, who runs the Lipski installation, sanitation and bathroom-product industrial plant in the West Bank. More than half of its 90 employees are Palestinians.
Cohen says he faced a 15% drop in sales after the PA enacted a law whereby Palestinians who purchase from Israeli companies in the West Bank could face up to five years in jail and a $14,000 fine.
He points out that his Palestinian competitors are free to sell their products in Israeli cities.
Despite the boycotts it faces at home and abroad, the Psagot Winery has reached record sales in the US – including a bottle of Double Magnum Red Special Reserve 2009, which went for an Israeli- record-setting $8,000 at a Jewish charity function in Miami – and has started marketing to Christian supporters of Israel there as well.
The winery is now producing 200,000 bottles a year, compared to 3,000 in 2003, the year Berg founded it with his wife, Naama. It exports 70% of its wines, mainly to the United States.
Several years ago, the 38-year-old father of three partnered with entrepreneur Simon Falic, a prominent supporter of the settlement movement in the West Bank.
To Berg’s delight, Falic conditioned their deal on keeping the winery in Psagot.
“I believe that the best way of fighting BDS is to say, ‘Because of you, we are selling more,’” Berg says, adding that in the US, Israel has many more allies than enemies – specifically the burgeoning support of the predominantly pro-Israel evangelical Christian community.
“For Psagot, BDS has been good for business,” he says. “Our enemies cannot beat us in the field,” he adds, so “now they are trying to do it in the economy.”
Berg doesn’t want charity (although he does have evangelical Christian volunteers from the Hayovel organization who help with the harvest, including most recently during last year’s war with Hamas in Gaza); he wants consumers who support Israel to buy Israeli products.
“Although we sell wine, people are looking for the story to connect to,” he says. “In our case, this is what we believe in.”