Sherwin Pomerantz
Sherwin Pomerantz

Ben & Jerrys:  They Just made it Worse

The op-ed in the New York Times on July 29th by Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Holdings attempting to justify the decision of the company not to sell its products in Judea and Samaria is a joke

They state: “It’s possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies, just as we’ve opposed policies of the U.S. government. As such, we unequivocally support the decision of the company to end business in the occupied territories, which a majority of the international community, including the United Nations, has deemed an illegal occupation.”

Seriously?  Are they at all aware of the many “illegal occupations” that exist in the world today?  To name a few:

  1. Morocco’s occupation of the Western Sahara
  2. Turkey’s occupation, since 1974, of Northern Cyprus
  3. Russia’s occupation of the Crimea since 2014
  4. Turkey’s occupation of Norther Syria since 2016
  5. Armenia’s occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan

Moreover, while we are at it, add the United States’ occupation of Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay since 1959, just to round out the list.  However, Cohen and Greenfield chose to focus only on Israel.  Do their principles and concern for humanity not extend beyond the borders of Israel?  Are the Ukrainians in Crimea not worthy of their concern? How about the Cypriots in Northern Cyprus?  Are they also not worthy of Ben & Jerry’s angst about occupied territories?

Of course, this fits the pattern of how Israel is treated regularly by the world’s political community.

Article 49(6) of the 4th Geneva Convention, for example, governs the conduct of occupying powers.  Yet historically it has been raised only regarding Israel’s activities in the West Bank after the Six Day War.   Add to that, the long-standing bias of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which has a permanent item on the agenda of every meeting to discuss human rights violations by Israel.  No other nation is so treated.

Yet, Cohen and Greenfield went further when they wrote:  “Even though it undoubtedly knew that the response would be swift and powerful, Ben & Jerry’s took the step to align its business and operations with its progressive values.  That we support the company’s decision is not a contradiction nor is it anti-Semitic. In fact, we believe this act can and should be seen as advancing the concepts of justice and human rights, core tenets of Judaism.”

Sadly their statement also reflects the “dumbing down” of Jewish knowledge in America today.  For sure, justice and human rights are “core tenets” of Judaism.  However, they are not Judaism’s only values and they do not make Judaism unique.  Those values are common to every major world faith.  Regrettably, for most American Jews “Tikun Olam” (i.e. repairing the world) has become the entire corpus of their Judaism.  The study of sacred texts, living a Jewish life and understanding the importance of Jewish peoplehood are frequently not even a consideration.

Thankfully, the founders at least said “The decision to halt sales outside Israel’s democratic borders is not a boycott of Israel. The Ben & Jerry’s statement did not endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.”  Bless them for that!

Contrary to what I wrote after the initial announcement last week, we should do all we can to support the commercial activities of the franchisee here in Israel.  However, economic power is capable of changing the world.  Thus, a boycott of Ben & Jerry’s products outside of Israel and of Unilever’s products worldwide would make the management realize the unfairness of their actions.

Oscar Wilde once said:  “I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect.”  Indeed!

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 29 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Immediate Past Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.
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