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Israeli students accuse Ben & Jerry’s of illegally occupying Native American lands

Letter is a response to the company’s controversial efforts to halt sales in West bank settlements

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)

A group of 1,000 Israeli students and academics have sent a letter to ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, accusing the company of “occupying” lands belonging to Native American tribes, according to a Tuesday report in the New York Post.

The letter, supported by Shurat HaDin — Israel Law Center, accused Ben & Jerry’s of operating their Vermont factory on lands belonging to the Abenaki people.

According to the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs website, the Abenaki nation existed on the land of present-day Vermont for 12,900 years.

“We have concluded that your company’s occupation of the Abenaki lands is illegal and we believe it is wholly inconsistent with the stated values that Ben & Jerry’s purports to maintain,” the letter to Ben & Jerry’s chairperson, Anuradha Mittal, said.

“Ironically, in July of the last year you announced that you would discontinue the sale of your products in Israel because you object to the Jewish State allegedly occupying Palestinian territories.”

The letter concluded by saying that “justice, morality and boycotts are not just slogans and antisemitic weapons for your food company to point at the Jewish community in Israel. Justice and morality must begin at home.”

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)

The letter was organized by Students for Justice in America, a group founded to oppose the Students for Justice in Palestine group, who are major supporters of the BDS movement.

According to the New York Post, Shurat HaDin president Nitsana Darshan Leitner accused Ben & Jerry’s of speaking “with a forked tongue,” calling out the company’s hypocrisy in advocating a boycott of the West Bank and East Jerusalem while the company itself sits on occupied land.

Last year, Ben & Jerry’s announced a boycott of “occupied Palestinian territory.” The decision sparked massive financial blowback for Unilever, as US states enacted anti-BDS divestment laws, pulling hundreds of millions of dollars in investments from the conglomerate.

Pro-Israel activists protest outside of a Ben & Jerry’s shop in Manhattan on August 12, 2021. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Ben & Jerry’s Israel and its parent company Unilever struck a deal earlier this year that would see branding rights fall to Israel’s Ben & Jerry’s franchise, disconnecting it from the global brand.

However, the US branch of Ben & Jerry’s has launched a lawsuit in an attempt to block the deal, claiming it would represent a threat to their branding. The judge has not yet ruled on the injunction.

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