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Ben & Jerry’s said to force new employees to watch videos on Israel, Palestinians

Report says one of lecture is by Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir, who rails against Israeli policies on West Bank, Gaza; MK urges government action against parent firm Unilever

Pedestrians walk on Church Street, past the Ben & Jerry's shop, in Burlington, Vermont, March 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Pedestrians walk on Church Street, past the Ben & Jerry's shop, in Burlington, Vermont, March 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

All new employees for ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s are reportedly required to watch a series of four lectures by activists on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including one by Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir, a prominent activist who has been expelled from Israel for allegedly supporting boycotts of the Jewish state.

Last year, Ben & Jerry’s caused an uproar by announcing that it will no longer sell its products in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” apparently referring to West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem.

Jewish Insider reported Monday that the company is having new employees watch videos on racism in the United States and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, under the title “Scooper Series: Social Mission.”

The outlet published a portion of Shakir’s video, saying it was obtained from an employee who had watched the videos. The report didn’t say what the other three videos contain.

In Shakir’s video, he accuses Israel of policies aimed at forcing Palestinians from their homes and removing Gaza’s population “off Israel’s demographic balance sheet.”

“If you look at the recent escalation that took place in May of 2021, it started over discriminatory efforts to force Palestinians out of their homes in occupied East Jerusalem as part of this larger policy,” he says, referring to a deadly round of violence that saw the Hamas terror group launch thousands of rockets at Israeli cities and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes, which came amid a dispute over Arab homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

“The policy also extends to the Gaza Strip,” Shakir goes on. “Although the Israeli government withdrew its settler population and ground forces in 2005, the Israeli government continues to exercise control over Gaza. And our study of Israeli policy over the last 16 years shows that it sought [and] pursued a written policy of separation between Gaza and the West Bank.

American citizen Omar Shakir, the director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, is pictured at Ben Gurion Airport on November 25, 2019, after being expelled from Israel. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

“Its enforcement of this policy largely aims to prevent Gaza residents from moving to the West Bank as part of a policy to remove the large Palestinian population in Gaza — 2 million people living in a 25-by-seven-mile territory — off Israel’s demographic balance sheet,” he adds.

The report said the company and Shakir hadn’t responded to requests for comment.

Last year’s boycott announcement came after a heavy pressure campaign from anti-Israel and progressive activists, reportedly including Shakir.

On Wednesday, Israeli opposition lawmaker Simcha Rothman from the far-right Religious Zionism party reacted to the report by urging the government to cancel all benefits given to Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever.

Rothman argued that the Finance Ministry can remove the benefits by making use of a clause in a law Israel passed several years ago to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“To this day, the Israeli government hasn’t taken any steps against Unilever and its participation in tenders hasn’t been prevented,” he said in a statement.

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman at a Knesset Arrangements Committee meeting on June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last summer’s decision sparked uproar in Israel and among some US Jewish groups, many of which called it antisemitic, since the company has no boycotts against any other area of the world.

The boycott has caused a headache for Unilever and heavy repercussions. At least six US states divested a total of hundreds of millions of dollars from Unilever because the move violated anti-boycott laws. The company’s stock has dropped close to 20% since the announcement, while the broader market has not moved much. And it has faced legal action, including by the Israeli manufacturer and distributor for Ben & Jerry’s, which refused to comply with the decision.

Critics of the West Bank boycott note that Ben & Jerry’s sells products to states with atrocious human rights records, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, and China. The company also sells in other disputed territories including Tibet, Crimea, Western Sahara, and Kashmir. Unilever continues to sell other products in the West Bank.

BDS supporters say that in urging businesses, artists, and universities to sever ties with Israel, they are using nonviolent means to oppose unjust policies toward Palestinians. Israel says the movement masks its motives to delegitimize or destroy the Jewish state.

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