Ben & Jerry’s, the famous ice cream company founded by Jewish Americans Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, announced on Monday that the company would no longer be selling products “in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
The short statement reads in full:
We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (opt).
We have a long-standing partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region. We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year.
Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the opt, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready.
The Ben & Jerry’s Israeli licensee has fiercely contested the move, decrying the corporate parent company Unilever and the global Ben & Jerry’s organization. (Cohen and Greenfield no longer manage their brand, but they still use it to push their many left-leaning social justice causes.) In an interview with Haaretz, the Israeli branch stated: “Global Ben & Jerry’s decided not to renew the agreement with us in another year and a half in light of our refusal [to comply] with their demand and stop selling throughout Israel.” Ben & Jerry’s chairwoman, Anuradha Mittal, said that the statement was put out by Unilever without consulting the board, and was quick to criticize it. However, the board’s criticism was that it did not go far enough—that they intended to cease all sale of the product in Israel, not just in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” This had not been approved by Unilever.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out against the decision, saying, “Now we Israelis know which ice cream not to buy,” as did current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who called it “an anti-Israel ice cream.” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called it a “shameful surrender to anti-Semitism, to bds and to all that is wrong with the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish discourse.”
Of course, the bds movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) against Israel is nothing new. What is truly befuddling is the elementary hypocrisy of it.
The Ben & Jerry’s statement is understood, of course, as showing “solidarity” with Palestinians and putting the proverbial thumb in the eye of Israel. But who exactly stands to benefit or suffer from this decision?
Currently, in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” (a deeply divisive statement if ever there was one—otherwise known as Judea and Samaria or the West Bank), are roughly 400,000 Jews and nearly 3 million Palestinians. Based on its political motivations and track record, Ben & Jerry’s is clearly taking aim at the Jews living in this region, and Israel’s governmental control. But one could also be forgiven for thinking that Ben & Jerry’s is a racist company that doesn’t want Palestinians eating its products.
The simple irrationality of the bds movement designed to “stick it” to Israel and help the Palestinian cause is breathtaking. The same can be said for when the Israeli SodaStream company was boycotted under enormous international pressure in 2014–15, for labeling its product as “Made in Israel” while operating a production facility in the West Bank. Eventually, the West Bank facility was closed down and moved elsewhere, and 500 Palestinian employees—several of whom were interviewed and stated that a boycott would only hurt, rather than help, them—were out of a job.
But to the bds coordinator in Ramallah, Mahmoud Nawajaa, this was simply “part of the price that should be paid in the process of ending the occupation.” It seems like Ben & Jerry’s has decided that refusing Jews (and Palestinians) ice cream is another effective way to “end the occupation.”
Adi Schwartz, fellow at the Center for International Communications at Bar-Ilan University, stated of the Ben & Jerry’s decision that “in practical terms, I think that there will be no implications whatsoever…. We know economically that bds is a huge failure. There is no impact whatsoever on Israel’s economy.” There is significant economic impact from bds, however—on Palestinians.
So where is the real “racism”? (As Joe Biden said, ironically, in a press briefing the same day: Those declaring “misinformation” should “look in the mirror.”)
Gilad Erdan, ambassador of Israel to the United States and United Nations, wrote a letter to governors of U.S. states with anti-bds laws requesting action be taken against Ben & Jerry’s. His letter stated: “The bds movement is not interested in promoting peace or a better future for the Palestinians … the past has proven that citizens of Israel are never the only ones who suffer from such boycotts, as these significantly harm Palestinians as well.” He continued to highlight the jobs of Palestinians and Israelis in relation to the sale of such products.
He wrote: “As Arab nations cancel their decades-long boycott of the Jewish state and sign peace agreements with Israel, and cultural and economic cooperation in our region is growing, American companies with radical ideological agendas cannot be allowed to go against the policy of the United States and act against normalization and peace.”
All of this highlights how out of touch the bds movement is to realities on the ground. And in the case of Ben & Jerry’s—a company created by, and in many ways largely tailored to, members of the Jewish community, with its kosher products—how out of touch many American Jews are with Israel. This was starkly highlighted in a recent survey.
The online survey of U.S. Jewish voters commissioned last month by the Jewish Electorate Institute was small, polling only 800 American Jews. But the numbers were shocking: 22 percent agreed to the statement that “Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians” (with a further 16 percent unsure); 25 percent believe Israel to be an apartheid state; 9 percent agreed that “Israel doesn’t have a right to exist” (with the number at 20 percent for those under 40 years old); 61 percent thought that a two-state solution was the best resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, paralleling other polling on the subject; and nearly 40 percent said they did not feel emotionally attached to Israel (matching with the same number from a Pew poll in May of nearly 5,000 American Jews). It is also perhaps unsurprising that the majority of American Jewish voters identify as Democrats.
Did you catch it? More than a full third of the polled American Jews believe Israel is, or may be, committing genocide!
The Ben & Jerry’s decision, then, is simply par for the course.
But for an American-Jewish community so often seen by Israelis as having a “radically skewed picture of what is going on” in Israel (as Times of Israel editor David Horowitz, himself a left-wing journalist, wrote about the above survey data), here are a few other interesting statistics they could consider.
Western leaders and the mainstream media (and as we have seen, even food companies) often portray the Palestinians, as a whole, desperate to have their own land as part of a two-state solution. The polls do not paint that picture. According to a 2016 survey conducted jointly by the Palestinian Center for Polling and Survey Research and Israel Democracy Institute, a majority of Israelis want a two-state solution (59 percent), while barely half of Palestinians want a two-state solution (51 percent).
Another interesting survey, conducted in 2010 among Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, showed that in a two-state situation, more Palestinians would prefer to live in the Israeli state than the Palestinian. As Washington Post editor Jackson Diehl wrote in 2011: “[O]nly 30 percent said they would prefer to be citizens of Palestine in a two-state solution, while 35 percent said they would choose Israeli citizenship. (The rest [35 percent] said they didn’t know or refused to answer.) Forty percent said they would consider moving to another neighborhood in order to become a citizen of Israel rather than Palestine, and 54 percent said that if their neighborhood were assigned to Israel, they would not move to Palestine.”
The majority of Palestinian respondents, then, prefered to remain within what a large percentage of American Jews believe is “genocidal” Israel’s borders.
Perhaps one reason for this (and a real reason to boycott West Bank territory if ever there was one) is because Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas—the “beacon” of free and democratic Palestinian government—is currently serving the 16th year of his four-year term (since 2006, all presidential and legislative elections have been repeatedly and conveniently “postponed”).
This “democratic” disparity came to the fore again on Monday, as Prime Minister Bennett said of Ben & Jerry’s: “The boycott of Israel—a democracy surrounded by isles of terrorism—reflects a complete loss of direction.”
The Israeli government’s reaction to Ben & Jerry’s announcement has been highlighted by some as an overreaction against what is just ice cream. But it’s more than just ice cream. It is part of a consistent attack from all across society against Israel. It is the same spirit that denied Jews tickets to movie theaters in 1930s Germany; after all, they were just movie theaters and other minor inconveniences—really, a less-than-fair retribution by poor impoverished Germans who had been money-laundered and oppressed by plotting, greedy, evil Jews (who surely would have been “genocidal” if they had weapons). Right?
The blind hatred and irrationality of anti-Semitism is an extremely slippery, one-way slope.
But in a way, there is a clear rationality to this singular, continual yet hypocritical focus on the democratic “island” of Israel in the midst of a truly violent, despotic, totalitarian Middle East and North Africa. For more information on this rationale, check out Richard Palmer’s article “The One Minority Society Loves to Hate.”
As we’ve often noted on this website, there is an active (and biblically prophesied) movement to “blot out the name of Israel” (2 Kings 14:27; Amos 7). And it seems that in the rabid fervor to achieve this end, any kind of collateral damage is justified, even against the very people such forces claim to be “fighting for”—the Palestinians.