Ori Epstein
Ori Epstein

The Ice Cream sin

Chapman's French Vanilla Ice Cream in a cup (Ori Epstein, 2021)

A few millennia ago, Jacob, his pregnant wife Rachel, and the rest of their household set out from their stopover in Bethel on the way back from Haran. On the road to Bethlehem, Rachel went into labor and had a boy, but sadly Rachell did not survive. Thus, Benjamin was born. 

Fast forward to modern times, and a company named Ben & Jerry’s will not sell ice cream to those who live down the road in Bethlehem. In fact, they will not sell ice cream anywhere in the West Bank, which includes a portion of the land given as an allotment to the descendants of Benjamin. I believe that there are better ways to honor a company’s namesake. 

In the Old City of Jerusalem, the Christians in the Christian Quarter, Armenians in the Armenian Quarter, Jews in the Jewish Quarter, and Muslims in the Muslim Quarter may soon have something in common: their inability to locally purchase Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Ben & Jerry’s advertises that “success tastes sweeter when everyone benefits” in its promotional anthem. Perhaps that is why this decision leaves such a bitter taste. Instead of continuing sales in the West Bank, benefiting the Israeli manufacturer (that they just cut), small businesses, and consumers in the West Bank, they decided that to cut off sales. 

Whenever my family eats ice cream (especially in large quantities), we remark that we are engaged in “the sin of ice cream.” Ben & Jerry’s, on the other hand, is partaking in a different sin of ice cream by denying it to those who live in the West Bank. Their sin is by far the more serious. Ice cream is meant to be a sweet treat that should bring happiness to all, regardless of geography. Ben & Jerry’s, however, broke that golden rule and is now using ice cream – or the lack thereof – to snuggle up to supporters of the BDS movement.

This decision is further evidence that BDS influence harms Palestinians. Though this is what I consider BDS Lite, where instead of boycotting all of Israel and the territories, they are only boycotting the West Bank*, this clearly has the markings of BDS activism. 

Ben & Jerry’s seems to be stopping sales to the West Bank in its totality. This means that Ben & Jerry’s is not only boycotting Israeli settlements but also stopping shipments to Palestinian areas. Palestinian children will not be able to enjoy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream after a long day in a hot region of the world. As such, those who truly want a better life for Palestinians should staunchly oppose BDS and the recent Ben & Jerry’s decision. 

J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said that this decision was “principled.” Ben and Jerry’s principles are “peace, love, and ice cream.” This decision is unprincipled; it does not bring peace, shows no love to the children of the region, and results in far less ice cream consumption. Additionally, his suggestion that “these [Jewish] leaders would make a greater contribution to the fight against antisemitism by helping end the unjust and harmful occupation,” is appalling. It wrongly suggests that Israel and the occupation — not antisemites — are responsible for antisemitism. 

The Israeli manufacturer of Ben & Jerry’s denounced the decision of the Ben & Jerry’s board, and Ben & Jerry’s said that their contract will not be extended at the end of next year as part of their boycott announcement. The manufacturer is asking Israelis to continue purchasing Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to support them and their workers, urging consumers to “differentiate between the blue and white product and the international company.” I believe that those in Israel should heed their wishes so that the manufacturer is not punished for Ben and Jerry’s actions. 

In America, however, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is primarily manufactured at the Ben and Jerry’s factory in Vermont. As such, some Jewish stores have decided not to carry Ben & Jerry’s products anymore. Ultimately, I would advise those in the United States that gelato tastes better than ice cream anyways.

—————————————————————————————————————-*Note: I do not consider the Old City and East Jerusalem as part of the West Bank or as part of the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” (the phrase that Ben & Jerry’s used, but I like to avoid since Israel officially sees the West Bank as “disputed” and not “occupied” making the West Bank the more politically neutral phrase) due to their annexation, but it seems Ben & Jerry’s does, they asked the Israeli manufacturer to stop sales in Jerusalem (it is uncertain if they meant all of Jerusalem or only the Old City and East Jerusalem).

About the Author
Ori Epstein is a Grade 12 High School Student at a Jewish school in Toronto, Canada navigating the transition between high school and university. Interested in politics, Tanach and law, Ori will be studying next year at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Ori holds dual Israeli-Canadian citizenship and had the privilege of attending the International Bible Contest in Israel in 2019.
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