Sheldon Kirshner
Sheldon Kirshner

Ben & Jerry’s Principled Position

Israeli politicians are up in arms over Ben & Jerry’s decision to end the sales of its ice cream products in the occupied territories held by Israel.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett lambasted it as “morally wrong” and claimed that the American company had decided to brand itself as “the anti-Israeli ice cream.”

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked condemned it as an “antisemitic” move.

President Isaac Herzog said, “The boycott against Israel is a new type of terrorism.”

The opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted, “Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy.”

Ben & Jerry’s, founded by the Vermont-based Jewish entrepreneurs Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen in 1978, has always championed just and progressive causes. So it was hardly surprising that Israel’s 54-year occupation of the West Bank has now emerged as an issue.

“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the company said in a statement on July 19.

Ben & Jerry’s added that its ice cream will continue to be sold in Israel itself. Its parent company, Unilever, underscored that point, saying it is “fully committed” to the market in Israel proper. Unilever acknowledged Ben & Jerry’s right “to take decisions about its social mission.”

Ben & Jerry’s decision goes into effect in 2023, when its current contract with its Israeli licensee expires. Until then, it will be business as usual.

In the meantime, kosher food stores in the United States and elsewhere have announced they will no longer stock Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

And the Israeli government is attempting to punish Ben & Jerry’s. Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, has sent letters to the governors of 35 U.S. states urging them to impose sanctions on Ben & Jerry’s on the grounds that they have enacted legislation against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

“I ask that you consider speaking out against the company’s decision, and taking any other relevant steps,” wrote Erdan, who is coordinated his misguided campaign with the foreign minister, Yair Lapid.

The Israeli government is free to respond in whatever fashion it chooses to challenge Ben & Jerry’s principled decision. But it should bear in mind that its reaction is essentially a weak defence of its untenable and unacceptable occupation of territory that should be incorporated into a future Palestinian state within the framework of a two-state solution.

Bennett’s condemnation of Ben & Jerry’s decision as “morally wrong” is in alignment with his fierce opposition to Palestinian statehood and his desire to annex a good chunk of the West Bank. But in all other respects, Bennett’s intransigent and self-serving position is “morally wrong.”

The Palestinians are entitled to statehood, and Israel should be prepared to cede land to them under a just peace treaty that assures Israel’s security and creates the conditions for a territorially contiguous Palestinian state. Anything less, like autonomy, would be a non-starter and a sham.

Shaked’s assertion that Ben & Jerry’s newly announced policy smacks of antisemitism trivializes the world’s longest hatred and is ridiculous on its own merits. Opposition to Israel’s occupation is not antisemitic per se. Antisemitism would have been applicable had Ben & Jerry’s decided to boycott Israel, as opposed to the West Bank.

Herzog’s characterization of Ben & Jerry’s decision as a “new type of terrorism” is flat out wrong. What really should be of concern to Herzog is crystal clear: Israel’s occupation sows tension and terrorism, generates bloodshed, and prevents a long overdue resolution of its protracted conflict with the Palestinians.

Ben & Jerry’s has every right to boycott Israel’s morally corrosive and strategically burdensome occupation. If Israelis like Benjamin Netanyahu choose to stop buying its ice cream, so be it.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal, SheldonKirshner.com
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