While Ben & Jerry’s announcement this week that it would cease selling its products in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” may have caught Israelis off guard, the settlement boycott was merely the latest in a long history of progressive positions taken by the ice cream giant.
Ben & Jerry’s was founded in Vermont in 1978 by liberal Jews Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.
Greenfield described himself as an “aging hippy” in a 2015 interview with the UK-based Independent.
“Many people think the hippies were irresponsible but we really believed in all that stuff about peace and love and caring for each other. We still do, and we still try to make a difference,” he said.
Cohen told Delish magazine in April, “I think there’s an increasing recognition that business is the most powerful force in the country, and that currently, business has been using that power covertly in its own self-interests… Consumers are waking up to that fact and they’re starting to say ‘businesses have a responsibility to work for justice.'”
Cohen and Greenfield no longer own the company, which was sold to the British conglomerate Unilever in 2000, but they have remained involved and the ice cream company has upheld their left-wing activism.
While many businesses tread lightly in politics for fear of alienating customers, the ice cream maker has taken the opposite approach.
In 2014, Ben & Jerry’s joined the “Fight for the Reef” campaign in Australia, which led to unsuccessful efforts by conservative lawmakers there to boycott the ice cream brand.
The company has named two flavors after the most senior progressive lawmaker in the US, Senator Bernie Sanders. During the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, Ben & Jerry’s unveiled “Bernie’s Yearning.”
In a play on Sanders’s economic views, Cohen said then that “the chocolate disk [in the flavor] represents the huge majority of economic gains that have gone to the top 1 percent since the end of the recession. Beneath it, the rest of us.”
Three years later, the company unveiled “Bernie’s back” in another homage to its Vermont senator.
In 2015, Ben & Jerry’s debuted “Save Our Swirled” to raise awareness about climate change. That same year, the company changed the name of its Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream to “I Dough, I Dough” in celebration of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down states’ ban on same-sex marriage.
In 2017, the company announced that it would not serve two scoops of the same flavor in Australia, due to the government’s refusal to legalize gay marriage.
Cohen and Greenfield were among a group of activists who were arrested while protesting for campaign finance reform at the US Capitol in 2016.
Ahead of the 2018 midterms, Ben & Jerry’s announced that it was taking a stand against what it called the Trump administration’s regressive policies by rebranding one of its flavors “Pecan Resist.”
The company said “Pecan Resist” celebrates activists who are resisting oppression, harmful environmental practices and injustice.
As part of the campaign, Ben & Jerry’s donated $25,000 each to four activist entities: Color of Change, Honor the Earth, Women’s March and multi-media platform Neta.
The company said “it cannot be silent in the face of policies that attack and attempt to roll back decades of progress on racial and gender equity, climate change, LGBTQ rights, and refugee and immigrant rights.”
In 2019, Ben & Jerry’s unveiled “Justice ReMix’d” to highlight what it calls structural racism and a broken criminal justice system.
A portion of proceeds supported Advancement Project National Office, a multi-racial civil rights group and its fight for justice for all, despite race or wealth.
The company said it worked with Advanced Project in St. Louis to close The Workhouse jail and in Miami to slow what the two groups call “the school-to-prison pipeline.”
During the 2020 racial justice protests across the US, Ben & Jerry’s released a statement calling for the “dismantle[ing of] White supremacy,” and urging Americans to use the awakening “to accelerate our nation’s long journey towards justice and a more perfect union.”
Also last year, Ben & Jerry’s joined the #StopHateForProfit campaign, pausing all of its paid advertising on Facebook and Instagram and calling on the social media giant to take steps to prevent its platforms from being used to amplify racism and hate.
The campaign was co-organized by the Anti-Defamation League, which came out against Ben & Jerry’s settlement boycott this week.
Ben & Jerry’s faced pressure for years to make the decision announced on Monday.
Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel reached out to Cohen and Greenfield in 2012, calling on them to cease sales in West Bank settlements as well as East Jerusalem.
Dozens of progressive groups joined VTJP over the past decade until Ben & Jerry’s ultimately heeded the calls.
“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT),” the company said in a statement.
“Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready,” it added.