Despite protest, Golan wines draw ‘fan club’

Despite protest, Golan wines draw ‘fan club’

A Princeton restaurant attracted six protesters — and a “new fan club” — when it decided to hold a pairing of a high-end Golan Heights wine and Israel-inspired dishes.

A sellout crowd of 40 came to Mediterra Restaurant and Taverna on March 19, where they were served wine from Tal Pelter winery.

They were greeted by protestors calling for a boycott of Israeli products from the “occupied” territories.

The protestors, representing the Princeton Committee for Peace in the Middle East, handed out fliers and spoke to some of the patrons.

“Our concern is with all products manufactured in the illegal settlements where people whose land it is and whose water it is have been expelled,” said committee representative Marilyn Jerry, who said her group was aligned with the international boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel.

The Golan Heights, annexed by Israel in 1981, are rarely invoked in protests over the “settlements,” which tend to focus on the West Bank. The wine was produced by Tal Pelter winery, which has vineyards in the northern Golan Heights, which Israel captured from the Syrians in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The United States considers the Golan Heights to be disputed territory subject to negotiation.

Robert Davidson of Princeton, active in pro-Israel affairs and a member of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, made it a point to attend the food and wine pairing, and to return the following night.

“When we heard there was going to be a handful of people from the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement who might be protesting, about 20 or 30 of us decided to frequent this fine restaurant that was having this event and enjoy their wine and excellent food,” he told NJJN. “Our purpose in going was to support a business that supports and sells products from Israel. It is very important to support members of our community that support Israel.”

Mediterra, which specializes in Mediterranean cuisine, had no political motivation in scheduling the event, said its general manager, Carmine DePasquale. “Everyone was pointing this out to us, but we were just excited about showcasing wines of this quality and how well they pair with certain foods,” he said.

DePasquale said the restaurant regularly pairs wines with various cuisines of the Mediterranean region. It held another featuring Israeli dishes and wine three years ago and said it was “definitely possible” it would hold another Israeli pairing in the future.

The “great quality” Tal Pelter wines are part of a wine list that includes vintages from Greece, Spain, Italy, Turkey, and Lebanon, said DePasquale.

“At the end of the day we got a lot of negative comments, but we at Mediterra were happy we stood our ground,” said DePasquale. He said the publicity and controversy seemed to have won the restaurant “a new fan club.”

“We found a lot of people were happy to see this event take place,” he said.

Jerry also said that her group received positive feedback from people who were unaware of the winery situation.

Pelter established his family-run winery in 2005, producing 100,000 bottles in 2012. According to its website, grapes are sourced from three locations — half from the northern Golan and half from vineyards in the Jerusalem hills and the mountains of the upper Galilee. The winery is establishing its own vineyards in the Golan Heights and the upper Galilee as part of its move to the Golan Heights.

Jerry said the land on which the winery sits was farmed by as many as 153,000 Druze, the majority of whom were forced from the land they needed to survive by Israel in violation of international law. She said only about 18,000 Druze remain on the Golan Heights (Israel puts the number slightly lower).

“It doesn’t matter if they were Muslim or Christian, they were engaged in subsistence farming and were driven from their land so others could take it over,” said Jerry. “Just as with SodaStream, which has Palestinians working for them, driving people off their land and then employing them in low-wage jobs is not a great benefit.”

She downplayed reports about the rising number of Golan Druze who have applied for Israeli citizenship since the Syrian crisis began.

“Israel can’t legally offer citizenship, even though some took it, because it doesn’t have sovereignty over that territory,” said Jerry.

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