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Israeli campaign aims to whip up US protests against Ben & Jerry’s — report

Cable includes instructions for working with pro-Israel groups to foment demonstrations outside corporate offices as part of pressure campaign seeking to reverse boycott decision

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

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, which announced this month that it would stop selling ice cream in Israeli settlements.

Israeli leaders have raged against the popular frozen treat brand 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 starting in 2023, terming it antisemitic and a form of terrorism.

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 Tuesday.

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.

In this March 23, 2010 file photo ice cream moves along the production line at Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream, in Waterbury, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

Jewish groups and others have lashed out at the companies for the move since it was announced on July 19. Many pro-Israel Jews in the US have called for boycotts of the company, and a number of kosher markets have announced plans to stop stocking Ben & Jerry’s products.

The cable called on diplomats to use talking points that refer to the decision to boycott settlements as a capitulation to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, referring to BDS as “anti-Semitic.”

A talking point called the move “hypocritical, in contravention of the values of corporate responsibility,” and said it “stinks of extreme cancel culture.”

The Foreign Ministry has largely taken the lead on pushing against the move by the ice cream giant. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has equated the Ben & Jerry’s decision with antisemitism and the government has consistently linked the move to the BDS movement. The Strategic Affairs Ministry, which was previously charged with combatting BDS abroad, was dissolved by the government earlier this month and is being absorbed into the Foreign Ministry.

Trucks are parked at the Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream factory in the Be’er Tuvia Industrial area, July 20, 2021 (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, sent letters on July 20 to the governors of the 35 US states that have enacted legislation against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, requesting that they sanction Ben & Jerry’s over its recent decision to halt sales in West Bank settlements.

“I ask that you consider speaking out against the company’s decision, and taking any other relevant steps, including in relation to your state laws and the commercial dealings between Ben and Jerry’s and your state,” read the letter from Erdan, who said he coordinated the move with Lapid.

A Foreign Ministry source told The Times of Israel after the move that it feared a domino effect.

“Every step, every surrender, certainly invites another one after it. It’s not going to stop. There’s pressure all the time. I can’t say this is the beginning of a wave. This is one company that faced intense pressure, and made the decision that it made,” he said. But “it’s not unreasonable to assume that if there’s a success, it will encourage them.”

On Tuesday, Unilever sought to distance itself from the decision by Ben & Jerry’s, sending a letter to Jewish groups saying that the firm “rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any forms of discrimination or intolerance. Antisemitism has no place in any society. We have never expressed any support for the BDS movement and have no intention of changing that position.”

Ben & Jerry’s boycott policy will only come into force when its agreement with the local manufacturing and distribution licensee expires at the end of 2022. Unilever said it would continue to sell in Israel after that, but any new licensee would be vulnerable to civil action if it did not distribute to Israelis in the territories.

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