The ice cream (meltdown) threat

I thought, naively, that having got rid of Netanyahu, we would also be rid of his tendency to stir up panic over imagined or exaggerated threats to Israel in order to divert attention from the real challenges facing our country.

Sadly, the response by the “government of change” to the Ben & Jerry boycott of the settlements illustrates that the toxic influence of “Bibism” on public opinion remains.

As Sami Peretz wrote recently in Haaretz (“The boycott isn’t working”, July 21), ongoing BDS attempts to undermine Israel’s economy have failed simply because global demand for the innovation and dynamism of Israel’s private sector is far stronger.

However, the boycott movement has been successful in eliciting hysteric responses from Israeli governments, which threaten Israel’s ties with – liberals, and progressives who are an important base of the Democratic Party and the American Jewish community. Contrary to the political right’s portrayal of progressives as Israel haters, the Ben & Jerry’s case illustrates the opposite.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are two Vermont Jews who built an economic empire but did not abandon their progressive values. Along with their commitment to social justice and environmental protection, they built one of their first overseas plants in Israel, a country they viewed as the embodiment of their values and “Tikun Olam” pledge.

Even though Israel’s values have been warped by the prolonged occupation and its recent governments’ distancing from the liberal values enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, Ben & Jerry’s held firm against BDS pressure to boycott Israel and drew a clear line between Israel within its sovereign borders and its settlements beyond the Green Line.

Ben & Jerry’s reflects the sentiments of a large majority of American Jews who feel uncomfortable with Israel, not because of BDS, but because Israel has distanced itself from the values they hold dear. Their criticism of Israel stems from deep concern for the future of the Jewish people, while our government call them names and even, absurdly, accuse them of being anti-Semites!

I personally oppose boycotts because I do not see them as a useful means to achieve a two-state solution and the basic rights to which Israelis and Palestinians are entitled. But I am equally against Israel’s attempt to silence those who choose boycotts as a legitimate and distinctly anti-violent tool to achieve their goals.

The Pavlovian reactions of Israeli governments to any criticism, including BDS actions, hand the movement a tremendous victory because American liberals regard violation of their right to free speech and their right to decide what they buy as undermining a sacred democratic principle.

The Ministry for Strategic Affairs, which the new government has rightly shut down, was a wonderful resource for BDS activists. Time and again, they saw this government agency adopting military tactics to deal with a challenge that calls for the exact opposite means of discourse and engagement. BDS activists are undoubtedly pleased to see the new government doing exactly what previous ones did, pushing additional supporters into their arms because Israel calls them names and tries to silence them rather than trying to deal with the criticism in a more adult manner, first and foremost by taking serious action to promote the two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

It’s not too late for this new government, with the new positive spirit it has brought, to chill vis-à-vis the ice cream attack. This government has already restored Israel’s intimate relationship with the US administration in a manner that enables constructive discussion of disagreements and exerts greater influence. It is renewing links with the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism and with European liberal democracies. The new Foreign Minister’s speech regarding anti-Semitism also reflects a refreshing approach to fighting the scourge by mobilizing broad coalitions with others around the world who suffer racism and xenophobia rather than insisting that it is only about us. It would be so much more effective for this new government to counter BDS if they will understand that reciprocal boycotts, certainly against those who care about Israel’s image are counterproductive.

It would be too bad if the ice cream crisis takes us back to familiar patterns of unnecessary hysterical meltdowns and responses that hurt us more than any exaggerated threat does.

About the Author
Nadav Tamir is the executive director of J Street Israel, a member of the board of the Mitvim think-tank, adviser for international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and member of the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative. He was an adviser of President Shimon Peres and served in the Israel embassy in Washington and as consul general to New England.
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