I would not have thought to associate ice cream with the violation of Palestinian rights but Ben & Jerry’s did when they recently announced they would no longer sell their products in Israeli settlements on the West Bank or in Occupied East Jerusalem because such practices were inconsistent with their values.
In purely business terms, this means Ben & Jerry’s will not renew the license of its Israeli partner when it expires at the end of this year. In terms of political import, their decision is huge. Right now, the world needs an honest, principled confrontation with apartheid Israel and its illegal occupation of Palestinian land, and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have just pushed us a few steps closer to one.
This is also a big boost for the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement (BDS), the strength and influence of which is now perfectly evident if we use Israel’s reaction to the Ben & Jerry announcement. The apartheid state is in panic mode since the peddler of ice cream took its courageous stand. This tells us all we need to know about BDS’s accumulating power.
It is fair to compare BDS with the anti-apartheid campaigns against South Africa of the 70s and 80s. The U.S. government supported white South Africa against the black majority just as today the same government supports the Israeli government against Palestinian human rights. As proof of that, thirty U.S. states have passed anti-BDS laws. Many cities, towns and counties have also done the same. Courts in four of those states have ruled such laws unconstitutional but all states need to be challenged as these laws violate our right to free speech and assembly.
In response to Ben & Jerry’s announcement, Ned Price, the spokesperson at the U.S. State Department, said, “We firmly reject the BDS movement which unfairly singles out Israel.” Senators Marco Rubio and Joe Manchin just reintroduced anti-BDS movement legislation that got nowhere when they first brought it up for a vote a couple of years ago.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also weighed in saying, “Over thirty states in the U.S. have passed anti-BDS legislation in recent years. I plan on asking each of them to enforce these laws against Ben & Jerry’s. They will not treat the State of Israel like this without a response.”
Not to be outdone, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, sent letters to thirty-five governors asking them to pressure Ben & Jerry’s to reverse course. “We view this decision very severely as it is the de facto adoption of anti-Semitic practices and advancement of the delegitimization of the Jewish state and the de-humanization of the Jewish people.”
Such arrogance! “The Jewish State” has all on its own, and unimpeded by the U.S. government, systematically dehumanized Palestinians for the last seven decades.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called Unilever, the ice cream maker’s parent company and threatened “severe consequences” if its subsidiary held to its position.
American officials, in both parties, play to the American Jewish vote and the Israel lobby and nothing gets in the way of their pandering. President Biden stands in opposition to BDS, for the sole purpose of appeasing Israel even though those anti-BDS laws, when contested in those four states, were found to be in violation of the right to free speech and assembly. Doesn’t this mean that the president of the United States supports Israel in violation of U.S. laws?
The immediate question is whether Ben & Jerry’s will hold to their commitment or fold under what is already emerging as intense pressure intended to inflict commercial damage. Airbnb stepped back from a similar commitment a few years ago. The larger question is whether other companies will follow now that Ben & Jerry’s has brought the BDS campaign squarely into the global corporate sector.
Times are changing and the political winds are shifting especially after the tragic events of last May in Jerusalem and Gaza and Israel proper which stirred up the entire world. The assumption that all Jews must support Israel and that any criticism against Israel is anti-Semitic are tired tropes which have worn thin in public opinion around the world.
This is not about Jews. This is about Israel. The concept of a Jewish only state as conceived by Netanyahu has done to Judaism what evangelical Christians have done to the Christian heritage and what fanatical jihadists have done to the greatness of Islam.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have simply said “No, enough!” as we all must.
Cathy Sultan’s book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides can be found on Amazon.