Stuart Gershon
Stuart Gershon

How Ben & Jerry’s Violates its Own Core Values and Social Mission

I have always respected Ben & Jerry’s for its intention to use the ice cream business to make a better world – to work for tikkun olam. Its core values are commendable:“to advance human rights and dignity, support social and economic justice for historically marginalized communities, and protect and restore the Earth’s natural systems.”

Ben & Jerry’s claims its decision to boycott “Occupied Palestinian Territory” (i.e., Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem including the Jewish Quarter) was necessary to be “consistent” with its core values.

But when the independent board of Ben & Jerry’s embraced a boycott policy and an anti-Israel rhetoric advanced by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) Movement – a narrative that considers even Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall, to be “Occupied Palestinian Territory” — Ben & Jerry’s made a decision that was completely inconsistent with its core values of justice, human rights, and peace.

The BDS Movement opposes the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It does not just reject Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It calls for the destruction of Israel altogether. How is BDS’ goal to eliminate Israel compatible with Ben & Jerry’s commitment to support “nonviolent ways to achieve peace and justice”? Where is Ben & Jerry’s progressive commitment to honor the rights of the Israeli people to national self-determination?

The BDS Movement opposes the Abraham Accords and rejects any Palestinian normalization, negotiation, or engagement with Israel. How is BDS’ total rejection of coexistence consistent with Ben and Jerry’s core value to “honor the rights of all people to live with “liberty (and) security”? Where is Ben & Jerry’s progressive commitment to promote peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians?

By surrendering to the demands of anti-Israel activists to terminate the license to manufacture in Israel, Ben & Jerry’s is taking away the livelihoods of Palestinians who work at the distribution company in the West Bank (as well as the jobs of Israeli Palestinians who work at the Israel factory). How is putting Palestinians out of work compatible with Ben & Jerry’s core value of achieving “fair livelihoods that enable individuals, families, and (marginalized) communities to thrive”? Where is Ben & Jerry’s progressive commitment to improve the daily lives of the Palestinian people?

These three examples manifestly demonstrate that Ben & Jerry’s action was worse than inconsistent with its values. Ben & Jerry’s actually violated its own core values. Ben & Jerry’s was so intimidated by social media attacks that it was insufficiently sympathetic to the Palestinian cause during the Israel-Hamas conflict last May that it completely lost touch with its own progressive principles of peace, nonviolence, and reconciliation. Shamed into believing that it was complicit in injustice, Ben & Jerry’s capitulated to the onslaught of online criticism from pro-BDS activists and to members of its own independent board who hold anti-Israel biases.

It is also quite revealing that Ben & Jerry’s does not boycott any other country in the world in order to be “consistent with its values.” Despite Ben and Jerry’s concern for human rights, it does not call out China for its violations of the Uyghurs’ human rights. Despite Ben and Jerry’s concern for climate justice, it does not boycott Brazil for continuing large-scale deforestation of the Amazon. Despite Ben and Jerry’s opposition to military occupations, it does not protest Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Ben and Jerry’s decision to single out only one country in the entire world for boycott –Israel– is morally hypocritical and demonstrably discriminatory.

Rather than adopt the BDS Movement’s biased and hate-filled narrative about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ben & Jerry’s could have used its considerable prestige in progressive circles to recognize, support, and strengthen the many Israelis and Palestinians who reject hate, abhor violence, and strive to make real a future for both peoples anchored in justice, equality, and peace. Now that would have been an action most consistent with Ben & Jerry’s values.

About the Author
Stuart Gershon is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Sinai in Summit, New Jersey. He is a founder and tri-chair of the Darfur Genocide Rescue Committee of Summit. He served as co-chair of the New Providence Diversity Committee. Rabbi Gershon was awarded the "Keeper of the Dream" Award by the Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service Committee. Rabbi Gershon is the author of Kol Nidrei: It's Origin, Development, and Significance. Currently Rabbi Gershon is co-chair of the Immigrant Rights committee at the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Justice.
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