Israel is worried by Ben & Jerry

JVL Introduction

It’s a month since Ben & Jerry said they would no longer be permitting their ice-cream to be sold in the Occupied Territories. In response, Israel has launched a major attack on the brand.

As Simon Korner says: “Labelling a commercial decision by an ice cream company anti-semitic and an act of terror represents a major escalation, taking the anti-semitism smear to a new level.” But Israel’s hysterical reaction is a sign of weakness, showing it’s losing control of the media narrative.

Ideological cracks among American Jewry are opening up. Trump’s crusade for Israeli apartheid has made it harder than ever to be a liberal zionist. Israel’s brutal response to the Palestinian uprising has deepened the cracks. No wonder Israel is worried.

This article was originally published by The Socialist Correspondent (Facebook page and journal) on Mon 16 Aug 2021. Read the original here.

Israel is worried by Ben & Jerry

Israel is worried. When Ben & Jerry’s announced on July 19 a boycott of sales of its ice cream products in occupied Palestine, the Zionist regime went into overdrive.

Despite the partial nature of the Ben & Jerry’s boycott – which doesn’t extend to Israel, and won’t come into effect until 2023 – Israel has taken the move extremely seriously.

The Ministry of Strategic Affairs acted with astonishing speed. The very next day a statement was released calling Ben & Jerry’s decision anti-semitic.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog condemned Ben & Jerry’s action, calling it “a new kind of terrorism.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett labelled Ben & Jerry “anti-Israel ice cream.”

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the UN, called the move “the dehumanization of the Jewish people”.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called Ben & Jerry’s move a “disgraceful capitulation” to anti-Semitism.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry immediately instructed all its diplomatic missions across North America and Europe to mount a campaign against Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever.

The biggest Jewish groups in the US have been mobilised. The Anti -Defamation League has called the Ben & Jerry’s boycott an example of “dangerous campaigns that seek to undermine Israel.”

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has called on the governors of the 35 states that have enacted anti-BDS legislation to demand a counter-boycott. They want the states to divest their state pension funds from Unilever.

This is effectively Israel demanding that elected American officials force a US company to obey terms that it has laid down. “This is as outrageous as it sounds,” says Mark Hage of campaigning group Vermonters for Justice in Palestine (Guardian, Aug 5).

What all this amounts to is a clear decision in Israel to up the ante. Labelling a commercial decision by an ice cream company anti-semitic and an act of terror represents a major escalation, taking the anti-semitism smear to a new level.

Meanwhile, the CEO of Ben and Jerry’s is receiving an onslaught of racist hate messages. An article by Dov Schwartz in the American Spectator calls Anuradha Mittal, who is Asian, a “Jew-hater”, comparing her to Goebbels.

Such abuse will fail.

Why is this different?

Why is Israel so furious? BDS campaigner Mark Hage says: “It might be surprising that an ice cream company could cause such a meltdown, but Ben & Jerry’s set a remarkable precedent.”

The Israeli state regards the Ben & Jerry’s boycott as a severe threat – and it’s not wrong. Previous BDS victories were “like mosquito bites”, according to a Jerusalem Post editorial (July 22), whereas the Ben & Jerry’s decision represents something very different.

Ramzy Baroud explains (Mondoweiss, July 29): “What differentiates Ben & Jerry’s decision to abandon the ever-growing market of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank from previous decisions by other international corporations is the fact that the ice cream company has made it clear that its move was morally motivated… ‘We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,’ a statement by the Vermont, US-based company read on July 19’”.

Though the boycott will have little monetary impact on the Israeli economy, it is of huge significance ideologically. The ‘good’ brand Ben & Jerry’s has decided its reputation is being tarnished by association with the ‘bad’ brand Israel.

Zionist writers Moshe Phillips and Jeff Dunetz (The Lid blog, July 20) put it very clearly: “With their announcement, Ben and Jerry’s is saying that Zionism and the Jewish homeland is colonialism and racism.”

Moreover, in refusing to give in to the smears of anti-semitism, Ben & Jerry’s action becomes even more significant. It begins to undermine the effectiveness of the well-worn Israeli tactic. Israel’s heightened rhetoric starts to sound strident and absurd. Israel can no longer be sure of controlling the media narrative.

The fact that the boycott is limited is less important than that Israel’s reputation, which relies so heavily on its ‘democratic’ credentials, has been called into question by a well-loved global brand.

Norwegian divestments – the boycott movement gains ground

Meanwhile, another victory for the worldwide BDS campaign has been the divestment by Norway’s largest public pension fund KLP from 16 companies trading with illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, citing the “unacceptable risk” that these companies “contribute to violations of human rights”.

The companies include Alstom, Motorola and several Israeli banks. Motorola’s role in surveillance in the occupied territories made the divestment from this company straightforward. The targeted Israeli banks finance illegal settlement construction, as do construction companies such as French engineering giant Alstom.

KLP is a major global player which manages $95bn worth of assets in total.

In May, another Norwegian fund, the sovereign wealth fund – the largest in the world – also excluded several companies linked to construction and real estate because of their connections to Israeli settlements.

With human rights groups B’tselem and Human Rights Watch describing the Israeli system as apartheid, and liberal organisations such as Ethical Consumer supporting the BDS campaign, it is clear that the tide is turning.

There are some similarities with the South African boycott movement. From 1985 to 1990, over 200 American companies were pressured to cut ties with South Africa, resulting in a loss of $1 billion in direct American investment. Capitalists saw a growing risk to their investments as the struggle within South Africa continued to grow, backed by the international campaign to isolate the apartheid regime.

The BDS campaign is not yet at that level, but the South African precedent shows what can be done.

The broader context of Ben & Jerry’s decision

Ben and Jerry’s statement stresses that the founders of the brand are “proud Jews… supporters of the State of Israel.”

They make clear that: “The decision to halt sales outside Israel’s democratic borders is not a boycott of Israel. The Ben & Jerry’s statement does not endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.”

Nevertheless, they also say that they reject “Israeli policy, which perpetuates an illegal occupation that is a barrier to peace and violates the basic human rights of the Palestinian people who live under the occupation. As Jewish supporters of the State of Israel, we fundamentally reject the notion that it is anti-Semitic to question the policies of the State of Israel.”

So, though Ben and Jerry support Israel and seek to distance themselves from the BDS, they dislike being associated with a violent regime that brings Sanders-supporting Jews like them into disrepute.

Such a position is increasingly typical of liberal American-Jewish opinion, which is trying to hold onto its traditional Zionism while beset by evidence that this is a morally untenable position.

A survey of 800 US Jewish voters conducted in late June/early July, soon after the latest Palestinian uprising, showed that 25% viewed Israel as an apartheid state. Among younger US Jewish voters, the percentage was higher.

More broadly, among Democrats and Democrat-inclined voters, only 3% view Israel favourably. This is down from 31% in the early 2000s, according to a Gallup poll (Key Trends in U.S. Views on Israel and the Palestinians, May 28). Again, the trend is especially strong among younger Americans.

Black Lives Matter – not least the exposé of the anti-terrorist training conducted by Israeli colonialist enforcers to various US police forces – has made it clear to many that the struggles are linked and that Palestinian Lives Matter.

For the first time, several Democratic members of Congress have voiced criticisms of Israel, including Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

Ronnie Olesker, Associate Professor of Government, St. Lawrence University, sums up the sea-change. Public sentiment among a section of American voters, including many American Jews “who used to be stalwart supporters of Israel has shifted, and they are increasingly turning their backs on the Jewish state.

“The rhetoric of Israeli politicians condemning companies like Ben & Jerry’s that join the boycott of settlements – such as calling it a form of antisemitism or equating it with terrorism – makes the problem worse.”

That Ben & Jerry’s was forced into taking action is evidence of this shift in opinion, which is responding to the growing power of the BDS campaign. For several years grassroots activists have been putting pressure on the famously progressive Ben & Jerry’s to be held to account. Not only Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, but students at prestigious Vassar University, and many others.

History will deal with Zionism as it did South African apartheid

Paradoxically, it was Trump’s ultra-keen endorsement of Israel’s apartheid regime – the US embassy moving to Jerusalem, stating that the Golan Heights were part of Israel, cheering on the settlements and the racist Nation State law – that helped this process along. Trump made it harder to be a liberal Zionist.

More importantly, this year’s uprising in Gaza, the West Bank and the ‘mixed’ cities of Israel showed with crystal clarity that the Palestinians’ will to resist will never die, and that history will deal with Zionism as it dealt with South African apartheid.

As its brutal violence against the Palestinians increasingly exposes its colonialist nature to the wider world, Israel’s soft power will continue to erode. Though the pro-Israel lobby in the US is as entrenched as the gun lobby, enjoying bi-partisan political support, the wheel of progress has begun to turn.

When the Murdoch-owned tabloid New York Post (July 29) says Ben & Jerry’s are on the ‘wrong side of history’ you know you’re on the right track.

As the Jerusalem Post put it ruefully: “If Ben & Jerry’s boycott of Israel was a flavor, it would be called ‘BDS game changer’”.

With ideological cracks opening up among American Jewry, the automatic American protection afforded to Zionism for decades is no longer guaranteed.

No wonder Israel is worried.


Comments (9)

  • Linda says:

    There’s another encouraging historical precedent …

    McCarthyism was unassailable in the States … until – quite suddenly – it wasn’t. What followed after McCarthyism was longer lasting “never again” revulsion to what was newly understood to be a baseless witch hunt.

  • Rosa says:

    Suggest Ben & Jerry’s should be appointed official supplier of ice cream to the forthcoming Labour Party conference

  • Brian Burden says:

    This is an excellent article!

  • Margaret E Johnson says:

    Totally agree with Ben and Jerry stance on the occupied territories. They are entitled not to support a policy they do not agree with.

  • Roy Dunnett says:

    Israel is slowly devaluing the term Anti Semitism. Committing daily crimes against the Palestinian People, and any criticism of these actions is termed
    “Antisemitism”. Keep up the good work JVL.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    On 12th August a small group of protestors marched to B & J’s store in Times Square to protest the boycott. Among them was End Jew Hatred activist Virág Gulyás, who declared that in boycotting Israeli settlements, Ben & Jerry’s was engaged in virtue signaling. “But unfortunately they are signaling the wrong virtues,” she said, adding that the position by the ice cream firm amounted to “cultural genocide.”

    More shrill hyperbole, obviously, but it goes further than that. Smarting at the charge of genocide aimed at Israel, Gulyás instinctively adopts the classic defence against a plausible accusation, that of deflection — turning the accusation against the accuser. Much the same tactic is typically used by Donald Trump: when (as often happens) someone calls him stupid he punches back by calling them moronic. Needless to say, this is a transparent device which fools no-one apart from Trump’s most devoted fans. In the case of Israel we should take it as a sure sign that the pressure put on Israel by the international campaign for Palestinian rights is beginning to bite, and needs to be kept up, particularly when Israel engages in a charm offensive. The other day I came across an article in an Israel-friendly publication challenging progressives opposed to the new Israeli Government to recognize the wide diversity of Bennett’s coalition, and in particular the inclusion of two Arab Israelis. We should not be taken in by such arguments — the optics of a diverse line-up is no substitute for policies aimed at creating a real democracy which accepts Palestinians as equal citizens with equal rights.

  • Joseph Hannigan says:

    I wonder if UK Labour Party will expel B&J ice -cream eaters too.

  • Alan Wallace says:

    In the mainstream media so little mention is made of the fact that Ben and jerry are “proud Jews” or that they want to continue to sell their ice cream within Israel’s democratic borders ……but not outside them as that would be in furtherance of the (UN denounced) spread of illegal settlements in the occupied territories. Where is the incisive investigative and campaigning journalism of the liberal press? Where are the condemning statements from the leadership of Labour, Lib Dems and Greens in the UK on the illegal actions of an occupying power? Why does the oppression of Liberal and progressive Jews and their political views go unopposed?

  • Bernard Grant says:

    This is a very serious subject and this article shows how ridiculous the Israeli Officials are, their language is staggering.
    Israel is bulldozing Palestinian Farms and Villages at an alarming rate, right across the West Bank from the Jordan to the Med’. They bomb Gaza regularly using HiTec missiles, they’ve created the largest concentration camp in the World in Gaza. All this and they scream victim, because the illegal settlers can’t have an ice cream, if it wasn’t so serious, it would be hilarious.

Comments are now closed.