Big chill: Jewish world reacts to Ben & Jerry’s exit from Israeli settlements

Kosher US supermarkets reconsider their stocks of ice cream, Israeli politicians empty their freezers; but left-wing groups praise move and some say it doesn’t go far enough

(Linda Gradstein/JTA)
(Linda Gradstein/JTA)

Kosher supermarkets in the US are rethinking their inventory. Politicians are emptying their freezers. And the foreign minister of Israel is vowing to get involved in local US politics.

The reactions were all part of the firestorm that quirky ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s set off Monday with its announcement that it would no longer sell ice cream in “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The Vermont-based company, founded by two Jews and long known for its left-leaning politics, had gone dark on social media for two months since the recent outbreak of violence in Israel and Gaza. The announcement broke that silence, simultaneously infuriating Israel advocates who said the decision was an unfair attack on Israel and disappointing pro-Palestinian advocates who said the company should have gone farther.

Israeli politicians, supermarkets in the US, various pundits and even Ben & Jerry’s current Israeli licensee went after the ice cream maker and its corporate parent, the British multinational Unilever, for its statement. (The company’s Jewish founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, no longer manage the brand but have often used their frozen treats to push social justice causes.)

Here are some of the reactions to the company’s freezing out of its business relations in Israel.

Israeli politicians go on the offensive

Reactions from Israel’s leaders were harsh. Despite the distinctions, Ben & Jerry’s made in its statement between Israel and the “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, a longtime supporter of the settlements, called the decision a “boycott of Israel” and said Ben and Jerry’s “decided to brand itself as an anti-Israel ice cream.” His predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted, “Now we Israelis know which ice cream NOT to buy.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the architect of the current ruling coalition who is generally to Bennett’s left regarding the Palestinians, went even further, calling the decision a “shameful surrender to antisemitism, to BDS and to all that is wrong with the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish discourse.” He called on US states to take domestic action against Ben and Jerry’s based on state laws that prohibit government contracting with entities that boycott Israel.

Cabinet minister Orna Barbivay posted a TikTok video of her throwing a pint in the trash; the flavor she tossed could not be determined at press time.

Other Israeli public figures appeared to compare the ice cream company’s settlement boycott to terrorism. Eran Cicurel, an editor at Israel’s public broadcaster, tweeted that the color scheme on Ben & Jerry’s statement was similar to that of the flag of the terror group Hamas.

Amichai Chikli, a right-wing lawmaker in Israel’s Knesset, tweeted, “Ben & Jerry’s You picked the wrong side” and posted an infamous photo from 2000 of a Palestinian who had just killed two Israeli soldiers displaying his hands through a window, covered in the soldiers’ blood.

In American responses, a mirror for Israel sentiment

American Jewish groups offered varied responses to the company’s scoop that mapped to their political orientation.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the left-leaning Israel advocacy group J Street, said that Ben & Jerry’s was drawing “​​a principled and rational distinction between commercial transactions in the State of Israel & those in the territory it occupies,” and said the term “antisemitism” didn’t apply to the company’s actions.

Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the left-wing New Israel Fund, said that Ben & Jerry’s was not being antisemitic in exiting “occupied Palestinian territory” because “these lands are not sovereign Israel.”

“Attacking people who try and distinguish between sovereign and non-sovereign Israel by calling them antisemitic is to evade a matter of fact, abuse the meaning of ‘antisemitism’ and ultimately gaslight those who would try and work towards a future of equality and justice for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” Sokatch said in a statement.

The Anti-Defamation League, a centrist group, said it was “disappointed” by the move, adding, “You can disagree with policies without feeding into dangerous campaigns that seek to undermine Israel” but refraining from calling for specific actions.

And the right-wing Zionist Organization of America called for a boycott of the ice cream, proclaiming that Ben & Jerry’s is “bad for your moral and physical health.” The call was echoed by others such as the Jewish conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who said he would stop eating the brand.

Kosher food purveyors consider practical changes

Glatt Express Supermarket, a kosher grocery store in Teaneck, New Jersey, announced via Facebook that it would no longer carry Ben & Jerry’s products following the company’s announcement.

“Due to the recent actions by Ben & Jerry’s, Glatt Express will no longer be carrying Ben and Jerry’s products. Am Yisroel Chai,” the store wrote in a post.

Aron’s Kissena Farms, a kosher market in Queens, made the same decision. The market “has removed all of the Ben & Jerry’s products in the Freezers, and will no longer sell any and all Ben & Jerry products effective immediately,” the store wrote on Facebook. “Aron’s Kissena Farms stands with the state of Israel

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