Since news broke earlier this week that Ben & Jerry’s is going to stop selling its ice cream in Israeli-occupied territories, Vermont readers and leaders around the globe seem to be giving the company a very chilly reception.
Included in the strong reaction is Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, who vowed this week to “act aggressively” against the decision. The move gives a boost to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement which celebrated the news. The group Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a major BDS proponent, called it “huge” adding, “The tide of history is turning.”
Bennett’s office says it spoke with the chief executive of Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, and raised concern about what Bennett called a “clearly anti-Israel step.” He said the move would have “serious consequences, legal and otherwise,” and Israel “will act aggressively against all boycott actions directed against its citizens.”
The State Department noted the U.S. rejects the boycott movement against Israel, saying it “unfairly singles out” the country.
In Monday’s announcement, Ben & Jerry’s said it would stop selling ice cream in the occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem. The company, known for its social activism, said such sales were “inconsistent with our values.”
The statement was one of the strongest rebukes by a high-profile company of Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which it has controlled for more than a half-century after capturing them in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians, with broad international support, claim both areas as parts of a future independent state. Israeli settlements, now home to some 700,000 Israelis, are widely seen as illegal and obstacles to peace.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem after the 1967 war and considers the entire city its undivided capital, though the annexation is not internationally recognized. It says the West Bank is disputed territory and says its final status should be resolved in negotiations. The international community, however, widely considers both areas to be occupied territory.
In response, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, Gilad Erdan, sent letters to 35 governors whose states have laws against boycotting Israel asking that they consider speaking out against Ben & Jerry’s decision “and taking any other relevant steps, including in relation to your state laws and the commercial dealings between Ben & Jerry’s and your state.” (Vermont does not have anti-BDS laws in place. They do include Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, California, Maryland and Texas.)
Erdan said Israel views the company’s decision as “the de-facto adoption of antisemitic practices and advancement of the de-legitimization of the Jewish state and the dehumanization of the Jewish people.”
That was the take from several letter-writers and commenters that reached out to The Times Argus and Rutland Herald. Ben & Jerry’s largest Vermont-based operation is located in Waterbury, just north of Montpelier.
The high-stakes battle comes against the backdrop of shifting U.S. attitudes toward Israel. Where Israel once enjoyed solid bipartisan support in the U.S., the country has turned into a divisive issue in recent years, with Republicans strongly supporting it and Democrats, especially young liberal voters, increasingly supporting the Palestinians. Several factors have fueled this trend, including former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close alliance with former President Donald Trump.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Aaron Kaufer, a Republican from Luzerne, said he spoke to the Israeli consulate and has called on state officials to invoke anti-BDS law. “Ben & Jerry’s is stoking the flames of antisemitism when they say ‘we’re not going to serve Jewish people in these areas,’” Kaufer said. “While Ben & Jerry’s surrendered to a continuous and aggressive campaign from extreme anti-Jewish and anti-Israel groups, doesn’t mean we should condone it. We must work together, enforce the law and stand with Israel.”
Obviously, this decision was not made in a vacuum. And the company, known for its social justice causes, knew what it was doing. This week’s backlash would suggest that global politics do not always make for good comfort food.