Stephen M. Flatow

Ben & Jerry’s should have some feelings for the Abenaki

Ever hear of the Abenaki Tribe?

Neither did I, until the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company this week started accusing Jews of illegally occupying other people’s territory, and I got curious about whose territory Ben & Jerry’s is occupying.

After all, if you’re going to go around calling other people “occupiers,” well, you better not be an “occupier” yourself, right? I mean, wouldn’t that be just the height of hypocrisy?

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield launched their business empire in 1978 by setting up an ice cream parlor in Burlington, Vermont. Today, the headquarters of their multi-billion-dollar enterprise is located in South Burlington.

It’s a safe bet that neither Ben nor Jerry ever asked permission from the territory’s original inhabitants. Like most white, imperialist, colonialist settlers, they just moved in and did what they wanted, the natives be damned.

The natives, in this case, were the Abenakis, a proud, peaceful group of indigenous tribes who had been living in that part of the country since forever–which, by the way, is a lot longer than the “Palestinians,” who didn’t even start calling themselves “Palestinians” until the 1960s.

The Abenakis have their own language — unlike the Palestinians, by the way, who speak the same language as the Arabs living in the 22 Arab countries that surround them. The Abenakis call their territory “Ndakinna,” which means “Our Homeland”—again, an interesting contrast with the Palestinians, who were calling “their” country Southern Syria until they realized, a few years ago, that it would make better propaganda if they started calling it “Palestine.”

In the 1600s, Ben and Jerry’s forefathers arrived from England and began settling in Vermont. There were no “Burlingtonians” then. The local residents were the Abenakis.

For those who are concerned about “illegal settlers,” it should be noted that the folks who created Ben and Jerry’s future city were the very definition of illegal settlers. They never asked the Abenakis for permission to take over their land. They just took it.

During the 1660s, failing to kill them off with diseases imported from Europe, the settlers waged war on the Abenakis, massacred and expelled them, and proceeded to rename the area after the Earl of Burlington.

But those stubborn Abenakis refused to completely die out or leave. So, in modern times, more modern methods were used to continue the racist oppression of the natives by the Burlingtonian settlers. In the early 1900s, more than 3,000 Abenaki children were forcibly sterilized as part of Vermont’s eugenics campaign.

I believe the word for trying to wipe out an ethnic group through such methods is “genocide.” You’d think that Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, with their sensitive social consciences, would have taken some interest in a genocide that was carried out in their own backyard.

I guess if the Abenakis were sitting on large reserves of oil, the international community would be more interested. Or if they hijacked some airplanes or blew up some buildings. Or, most of all, if they were in a conflict with some Jews. But, unfortunately for the Abenakis, they don’t possess any of the qualities necessary in today’s world to merit the attention of ice cream moguls in search of radical chic.

Today there are approximately 3,200 Abenakis living in Vermont and surrounding areas. It was not until 2011-2012 that the state of Vermont finally, grudgingly, agreed to even recognize them as tribes.

Recognition is nice (and only a few hundred years late). Genuine restitution would be better. But Ben & Jerry’s, whose headquarters is occupying Abenaki land, is not offering to give any of that land back to its rightful owners. The company is not providing the Abenakis any financial compensation. They’re not even offering to name a new ice cream flavor after the natives. “Genocidal Gellato,” anyone ?

Israel’s Jews are the indigenous people in their country, much like the Abenakis are in theirs. The huge numbers of Arabs who sneaked across the border into British Mandatory Palestine in the 1920s and 1930s were the illegal settlers, not the Jews. Those Arab settlers occupied land that has belonged to the Jewish people since biblical times.

Today, the Jordanians occupy the eastern 78% of Mandatory Palestine, and the Palestinian Authority, occupies 40% of western Mandatory Palestine. They are the “occupiers,” not Israel. The Israelis, like the Abenakis, are the ones whose land has been stolen and occupied, and who have been the targets of genocide. Ben & Jerry’s is on the wrong side in both conflicts.

About the Author
Stephen M. Flatow is president of the Religious Zionists of America- Mizrachi (not affiliated with any Israeli or American political party) and the father of Alisa Flatow who was murdered by Iranian sponsored Palestinian terrorists in April 1995. He is the author of "A Father's Story: My Fight For Justice Against Iranian Terror."
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