The Jewish founders of Ben & Jerry’s spoke out Wednesday in defense of the ice cream maker’s move to boycott Israeli settlements in the West Bank, calling it “one of the most important decisions the company has made in its 43-year history.”
Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who sold the company decades ago and maintain no control over its operations, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that they support Israel but oppose its “illegal occupation” of the West Bank.
They maintained that the decision taken by their former company is “not a rejection of Israel. It is a rejection of 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.”
Israeli leaders have raged against the firm and its corporate owner for the July 19 decision to cut ties with its Israeli manufacturer and distributor and end sales over the Green Line from the end of 2022, terming it antisemitic and a form of terrorism. It is not clear whether Ben and Jerry’s products will continue to be available in Israel from after that date.
Cohen and Greenfield called it praiseworthy for a company espousing progressive values to make the decision that Ben & Jerry’s did, noting that the settlement boycott was part of a long line of stances to that end.
“Even though it undoubtedly knew that the response would be swift and powerful, Ben & Jerry’s took the step to align its business and operations with its progressive values,” they wrote, adding that the boycott should be seen “not as anti-Israel, but as part of a long history of being pro-peace.”
They defended the company, which is a Vermont-based subsidiary of Unilever, against accusations of antisemitism, and also noted that it had not specifically endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.
“That we support the company’s decision is not a contradiction nor is it anti-Semitic,” they wrote. “In fact, we believe this act can and should be seen as advancing the concepts of justice and human rights, core tenets of Judaism. 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.”
“The decision to halt sales outside Israel’s democratic borders is not a boycott of Israel. The Ben & Jerry’s statement did not endorse the BDS movement,” they wrote.
Israeli officials have lashed out at Ben & Jerry’s, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid saying the ice cream company “caved to antisemitism” and President Isaac Herzog referring to the boycott as a “form of terrorism.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan reached out to governors of over 30 US states where anti-BDS legislation has been passed in recent years, urging them to sanction Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever as dictated by those laws. A handful of states have already answered the call and are looking into the matter.
A report Tuesday detailed plans for a campaign by Israel’s diplomatic corps to stir popular sentiment in the US and elsewhere against Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever. A cable sent to Israeli missions in North America and Europe instructs diplomats to work with Jewish, pro-Israel and evangelical groups to foment demonstrations outside of Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever offices, Walla news reported.
Diplomats were also told to solicit shows of public protest against Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s, such as statements, op-eds or direct contacts with “key corporate figures.” The protests would then be amplified by the diplomats, in order to ratchet up pressure on the companies to reverse the decision.
“We need to take advantage of the 18 months remaining until the decision goes into effect in order to change it,” the cable read, according to the report, which was also carried by US news site Axios. “The goal is to activate consumer, press, social media and political pressure for the long-term on the Unilever multinational and Ben & Jerry’s in order to lead to a dialogue with the company.”
According to Walla, diplomats were also encouraged to lobby state officials in the US to utilize contentious laws requiring them to divest from companies that boycott Israel. Officials in Florida, Texas, New York, New Jersey and Illinois have announced they are already looking into whether they need to divest from Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s.