Israel melts down over Ben & Jerry’s

I spoke to TRT World’s Money Talks program about the decision by Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling its ice cream in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Israel is enraged and threatening to punish the frozen treats maker – a reaction I told TRT World is totally unhinged.

Watch the video above.

Palestine’s BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement celebrated a win that came after years of grassroots campaigning.

“We warmly welcome their decision but call on Ben & Jerry’s to end all operations in apartheid Israel,” the BDS National Committee added.

Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid denounced Ben & Jerry’s move as “a disgraceful capitulation to anti-Semitism, to BDS and to all that is evil in the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish discourse.”

Israel has no good arguments to defend its illegal colonization of occupied Palestinian land. So it lazily smears virtually anyone who criticizes or takes action to document or counter its crimes and abuses as anti-Jewish bigots.

Lapid also vowed to press more than two dozen US states that have passed legislation targeting the BDS movement “to enforce these laws against Ben & Jerry’s.”

“They will not treat the State of Israel like this without a response,” Lapid added.

“Anti-Israel ice cream”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke to Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, the multinational that owns Ben & Jerry’s, warning him of “severe consequences.”

“There are many ice cream brands, but only one Jewish state,” Bennett added.

“Ben & Jerry’s has decided to brand itself as the anti-Israel ice cream.”

On Tuesday, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the US, published a letter he sent to the governors of 35 US states denouncing Ben and Jerry’s “anti-Semitic” action.

Erdan urged the officials to “consider speaking out” and take punitive measures “including in relation to your state laws and the commercial dealings between Ben & Jerry’s and your state.”

Anti-BDS laws are widely viewed as unconstitutional attempts to force pro-Israel political opinions on US citizens and entities.

Federal courts in Kansas, Arkansas, Texas, Arizona and Georgia have already struck down key anti-BDS provisions that violate First Amendment protections for freedom of speech and political opinion.

Israel has previously taken credit for helping get many of these unconstitutional laws passed in the first place.

Ben & Jerry’s previously angered Israel and its lobby in the late 1990s, when under pressure from campaigners it ended use of spring water pillaged from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, part of Syria.

Scorched earth

Some pro-Israel activists are also calling on Jewish religious bodies around the world to withdraw kosher certification from Ben & Jerry’s products.

One rabbinical organization in Australia has reportedly already done so.

Similar to halal certification for Muslims, a kosher certification given by a qualified rabbinical agency attests that a food item has been made according to Jewish religious standards.

Politicizing such certifications in the service of Israel is another reprehensible attempt to conflate appropriate actions to counter Israel’s violations of international law with anti-Jewish bigotry.

This scorched earth tactic by pro-Israel activists is especially reckless, given that anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim bigots in several countries already spread lies and conspiracy theories about kosher and halal certifications to advance racist, far-right agendas.

“Deceit”

Founded at a gas station in Vermont in 1978 by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, Ben & Jerry’s has fostered a reputation as a socially conscious company.

It was fully acquired by Unilever in 2000, but retains an independent board of directors that the ice cream maker says is “empowered to protect and defend Ben & Jerry’s brand equity and integrity.”

The decision to end sales in Israeli settlements has sparked a public battle between Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s management on the one hand, and the independent board on the other.

On Monday, Ben & Jerry’s released a statement announcing that “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

“We have a longstanding partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region,” the company added.

“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.”

The statement’s final sentence asserts that although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in occupied Palestinian territories, “we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement” – details of which would be announced later.

Unilever issued a separate statement affirming, “We remain fully committed to our presence in Israel.”

With regard to its subsidiary, Unilever added that it “recognized the right of the brand and its independent board to take decisions about its social mission.”

“We also welcome the fact that Ben & Jerry’s will stay in Israel,” Unilever asserted.

The independent board is rejecting this.

The statement released by Ben & Jerry’s management “does not reflect the position of the independent board, nor was it approved by the independent board,” according to a separate statement from the board.

The board says the statement it approved differs from the one actually issued by Ben & Jerry’s. It does not include any commitment to “stay in Israel.”

Unilever and the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s took a position and published a statement on a matter directly related to the ice cream maker’s “social mission and brand integrity” without its approval, the board said.

This put the companies “in violation of the spirit and the letter” of the agreement made when Unilever acquired Ben & Jerry’s, the board added.

Board chair Anuradha Mittal did not respond to inquiries from The Electronic Intifada, but she told NBC News, “I am saddened by the deceit of it.”

“I can’t stop thinking that this is what happens when you have a board with all women and people of color who have been pushing to do the right thing,” Mittal added.

Snowball effect

Notwithstanding these differences, Israel considers Ben & Jerry’s withdrawal even from its West Bank settlements as a major blow and a dangerous precedent.

It comes amid a widening international consensus that companies have an obligation not to profit from or otherwise be complicit in Israel’s colonization of occupied territories and other abuses of Palestinian rights.

Recently, one of Norway’s biggest pension funds divested from 16 Israeli and international firms that profit from the settlements.

This also comes amid growing recognition that Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, wherever they live, constitute the crime of apartheid.

Israel undoubtedly fears that the ice cream maker from Vermont has set off a snowball effect that will encourage others to freeze it out as well.

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Comments

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apartheid israels anti-sanctions walls are melting - the BDS flood is coming. Very scary for the zionists but very welcome for Palestinians

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Why should it take 'years of pressure' to convince a company that allegedly 'embraces human rights' to do the right thing? I wouldn't trust this is a final decision...

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I will be buying Ben and Jerry's exclusively from now on. It strikes one odd that anti BDS laws exist while there is an American Nazi party with no such laws against it.

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Israel is enacting the same duliscrimination and advancment of apartheid by denying entry to US and other foreign nationals on the basis of marraige to Palestinians. Ive been seperated from my husband and young childeren with no clear policy in place to reunite.

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I guess that means Israeli politicians can't walk around with an ice cream cone in their mouths like US politicians and billionaires do so that they appear more human.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.