When Ben and Jerry’s announced its new flavor (Pecan Resist) and its intent to donate proceeds to four organizations, Color of Change, Honor the Earth, Neta, and Women’s March. I was thrilled. They seemed to cover four different areas where injustice needs to be eradicated.
With 1.4 million members, Color of Change bills itself as “nation’s largest online racial justice organization.” Its leadership team is large and dedicated to its cause, “…we move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America.” As Honor the Earth, the second group, works to “create awareness and support for Native environmental issues and to develop needed financial and political resources for the survival of sustainable Native communities,” it is “… the only Native organization that provides both financial support and organizing support to Native environmental initiatives.” Its team is also sizable. Neta, “one of the fastest-growing Latinx-run progressive media platforms in Texas and the US,” is based in the Rio Grande Valley. Their team is editorially focused as their goal is to produce content that speaks to the topics affecting residents of the area, topics that affect a far larger audience, like immigration, LGBTQ, the border wall, abortion.
Each is a niche within a larger of concern. Black, Native American (and environmental), the border with Mexico…The issue so many are having, though, is with the fourth group, Women’s March, which can be traced directly to two of its board members, Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory. Their personal positions are abhorrent to Israel-supporting Jews. Initially, my position was to fully support Ben & Jerry’s. Women’s March itself is not an anti-Semitic group. The group’s platform itself does not mention Israel or Palestinians, instead focusing on women. (This is better than the Black Lives Matter’s platform, which is ruined by including anti-Israel rhetoric, under Invest-Divest). Black and women’s rights are good causes. It’s when positions which condemn Israel are mixed in that they lose Jewish support. And given the Jewish perspective of tikkun olam and support for fairness in this world, it is a huge pity that the groups allow Sarsour and Mallory to alienate Jews, further adding to divides and reducing the support they would otherwise get, from a group with a long history of supporting the rights of oppressed and marginalized groups.
It is time to be vocal. Tell Women’s March about the hurt these women’s presence do — but do not condemn their work; Women’s March takes no position on the conflict. I think a wiser path, instead of making Jews look like they are anti-women’s rights, is to pressure the March to remove Sarsour and Mallory from their board. Will it work? I don’t know.
I think it important that organizations that support Sarsour and Mallory – or candidates who photograph themselves with Sarsour – get educated on why this is riling up Jewish supporters who would otherwise support their causes. And that is why I would also suggest instead of boycotting (Israelis too are boycotting, following a radio personality’s plea.), contacting Ben & Jerry’s to ask they reconsider their fourth beneficiary. And state why. And perhaps suggest that instead of supporting Women’s March, they donate to a women’s group like ultraviolet, whose team contains no controversial figures condemning and alienating Zionist women and which works year round to help all women?
Sarsour has said that Zionists cannot be feminists and cited the checkpoints and the resulting lack of easy access to healthcare from within the territories as her main reason. The problems I see with her argument are (1) Zionism means supporting Israel; it does not mean supporting oppressing Palestinians; (2) Checkpoints are not discriminatory towards women specifically; (3) Israeli Arab women, that is, those truly under Israel’s jurisdiction, have the same complete freedom that everyone else has; (4) If there is oppression specifically of women within the territories (e.g., even though awareness is up, “honor killings” are still going on and judges give reduced sentences to the men that commit them), that is on the Palestinian leadership and society and not the Israeli government. So, to say that Zionists cannot be feminists is wrong. It is also a dangerous kind of intersectionality.
In excluding anyone pro-Israel from the women’s movement, she is doing what the BLM movement is doing with its platform that calls out Israel as being genocidal and apartheid. Israel is neither. Yes, the situation in the territories is bad and unfair in that people do need to determine their own future and their own destiny. If the land isn’t to be annexed and everyone given citizenship and rights, then they must have their own state. But it is a complicated process that stems back to the need to settle issues from back in 1948. It is true that as time goes on, it grows more unfair and volatile and this helps nothing. But both sides need to come to the table with a willingness to find a solution. (And there we get into an entirely different conversation, one about Fatah and Hamas being more concerned with the conflict between them than with achieving peace, and how they suppress democracy, as even Human Rights Watch recently pointed out, which preempts alternative groups from arising).
I think it is important to remember that what goes on in the territories is not representative of what goes on in Israel, where there are laws that protect women as much as they do men. For Sarsour to blanketly say that a Zionist cannot be a feminist is untrue, exclusionary and inflammatory. And it is not just picking on Israel, it affects Jews everywhere who do support the existence of Israel — and that’s when you begin to hear the words anti-Semitism used.
I think the issues with Tamika Mallory, her support of Farrakhan and BLM are similar. The same with other causes that let anti-Israel sentiment hijack their cause (remember the LGBT parade in Chicago which threw out a Jewish group whose pride flag had a Jewish star?). Blanket condemnation of Israel is unfair. History is relevant. Details are relevant. Responsibility is relevant.
The bottom line is just as people are disillusioned with American leadership but we wouldn’t expect them to condemn the entire country and question its right to exist, it isn’t fair to conflate disagreement with Israeli governmental policy with the country as a whole. Supporting the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement, like the anti-Israel sentiment that goes with it, is tantamount to saying the country has no right to exist. It does.
This repeated lack of intersectionality under the flag of intersectionality where Israel and Palestinians are concerned is beyond hurtful, because Jews would typically be loud and vocal supporters of all these issues. In excluding those of us who support Israel, it not only contributes to the divide, it also feeds to the anti-Semitism coming from the left.
I know that not everyone can make the distinction regarding a board member’s inclusion in an otherwise good cause and will justify boycotting a company looking to support good causes. This is unfair and unhelpful as well.
Where I stand now – is don’t boycott ice cream. And don’t boycott Women’s March and Black Lives Matter. But do educate and pressure those that choose to align themselves with anyone who would have no problem seeing Israel disappear to choose better. Teach them how that path they are on is as filled with intolerance as the kind of hate they purport to combat.
Photo: Ben & Jerrys ‘Pecan Resist’ ice-cream launched October 2018. (Ben & Jerrys)