The Ben & Jerry’s boycott of Israeli settlements was perfect high summer fare. Amid the torrent of comment in the Jewish press and elsewhere, one bit of advice from a normally wise columnist brought a wry smile.
If you can’t bring yourself to buy a tub of cookie crunch any more, go for a caramel Magnum instead. Since Magnum is a leading Unilever ice cream brand – just like Ben & Jerry’s – that would be like jumping from the fridge into the deep freeze.
The ice cream row is far from frivolous. It touches a number of nerve ends. Principally, it is a reminder that Israel settlement policy is monumentally divisive. If ever a two-state solution can be extracted from the current morass there will be a great deal of dismantling and bulldozing to be done as there was when Ariel Sharon pulled out of Gaza in 2005.
The settlements are toxic and may be a blot on Israel’s global reputation. But take them away and the same boycott forces that rally against settlements remain. They will light the flames of anti-Israel extremism in Britain’s education and acting unions and in the State House across the US would quickly find new reasons to stigmatise Israel.
The frightening aspect of this are the uncontrollable forces driving anti-Israel sentiment. Israel has a head start on everyone else when it comes to Covid vaccine policy. Central banks around the world monitor Israel for clues on the global economy. Yet for all the positivity hidden forces stoke public sentiment.
Abuse of Israel and Jews on social media is nothing new. Here in Britain, many of those in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party were outed for their anti-Israel, antisemitic ideas as a result of Twitter postings. At a forum on antisemitism held at Stamford Bridge last month, it was no real surprise to learn club owner Roman Abramovich is a target of hate. Tweets included “@premierleague Keep matchfixing for the Jew Abramovich”. As ghastly as this is, Abramovich has never sought to hide his Jewish background. As the major benefactor to the Imperial War Museum’s rebuilt Shoah exhibitions and galleries he is front, back and centre.
What was really alarming was the testimony of Sharon Nazarian, senior vice president for International Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League in the US. Most of us think of the social media site TikTok as a place of harmless fun filled with teenage dance and music, escapade videos and sub-teenage pursuits.
China-based TikTok is much more than that now. It has been colonised by political activists and was one of the lines of attack fuelling populist feeling in Vermont against occupation and settlements, leading to Ben & Jerry’s boycott.
Nazarian argued that the targeting of nine to 13-year-olds on TikTok with uncensored, ill-informed messages about Israel was one of the most ‘pernicious’ developments on the whole anti-Zionist, antisemitic landscape. TikTok is capturing young minds, leading to anti-Israel sentiment in schools and in conversation.
It moves from social media to the family dinner table, school debating society and is in danger of creating a new generation of Israel haters. How long before this teenage army moves beyond ice cream to other targets?
Unlike Twitter and Facebook, which make an effort at monitoring, what goes out on TikTok has been largely unrecognised because it is thought of as harmless fun for the young. It keeps them entertained, yet it has become a site with a rotten heart.
Beijing recognises all is not well. It recently caused a near crash in the shares of another short-video group Kuaishou, which it accused of ‘negatively influencing the nation’s youth’.
Parents, regulators and anti-boycott activists need to recognise a hidden hand that is poisoning the minds of youngsters across the world. This unseen force may prove more dangerous than car convoys of ignorant louts parading down the Finchley Road.