Also this week:
The fallout over Ben & Jerry’s decision to no longer sell its products in what the company calls “occupied Palestinian territory” ignited a firestorm throughout the Jewish world this week. Israel’s leaders and pro-Israel groups threatened economic and legal retaliation against the ice-cream company and its corporate owner, Unilever.
New York area supermarkets — both kosher and secular — acted immediately, eliminating or limiting Ben & Jerry’s freezer space.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke with Unilever CEO Alan Jope on Tuesday, emphasizing the seriousness with which the Jewish state views the Ben & Jerry’s move.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Bennett told Jope that he views the decision as “anti-Israel” and that this action will have “severe consequences, including legal.”
President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday said “the boycott of Israel is a new sort of terrorism, economic terrorism.”
The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel “does not seek peace, and wishes to undermine the very existence of the State of Israel,” Herzog said.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the decision a “shameful surrender to anti-Semitism, to BDS and to all that is wrong with the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish discourse.”
The White House declined to comment directly on the Ben & Jerry’s move, but reiterated its opposition to BDS.
“I don’t have a reaction to offer regarding the actions of a private company,” State Depart Spokesman Ned Price said in response to a reporter’s question. “But more broadly, what I will say is that we firmly reject the BDS movement, which unfairly singles out Israel.”
Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said that he has written to 35 US governors noting that the decision by Ben & Jerry’s violates their state’s anti-BDS legislation.
On Monday, Ben & Jerry’s, which since 2000 has been owned by Unilever but maintains autonomy when it comes to social causes, posted a letter saying that it will “end sales of our ice-cream in the occupied Palestinian territory. We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).”
The Israeli manufacturer, led by CEO Avi Zinger, had refused to cave in to corporate presure to stop selling in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusaelm.
“They did this because we would not agree to stop selling ice cream in all parts of Israel,” Zinger said. “The reason they did that is because of BDS pressure. We are not surrendering and it’s important that you support us. I ask you all to stand by us, help us fight because our fight is everyone’s fight.”
“Ice-cream is not politics,” Singer said.
According to NBC News, a Unilever statement, promising to remain in Israel, was at odds with the wishes of the independent Ben & Jerry’s board.
The board chair, Anuradha Mittal — who’s a vocal critic of Israel and an advocate for Palestinian and progressive causes — told NBC News that such sales would require board approval — which was not forthcoming and thus would be in violation of a legal agreement made when it bought Ben & Jerry’s.
“I am saddened by the deceit of it,” Mittal said. “This is not about Israel. It is about the violation of the acquisition agreement that maintained the soul of the company. I can’t stop thinking that this is what happens when you have a board with all women and people of color who have been pushing to do the right thing.”
The “amazingly unique acquisition agreement … was designed so that a progressive business could ensure its independence and protect its values when acquired by a large corporation,” Mittal said.
Unilever said in a separate statement on Monday that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a very complex and sensitive situation. … We remain fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in our people, brands and business for several decades.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, a self-described champion of left-wing politics, was quick to slam Ben & Jerry’s anti-Israel move, telling his Tuesday press briefing that he “will not be eating any more Cherry Garcia for a while.”
“BDS is a movement that will undermine peace — it’s as simple as that,” de Blasio said. “You cannot have peace if you undermine the economic reality and create divisions.”
Professor Eugene Kontorovich, director of International Law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum, who was instrumental in overturning the Airbnb boycott, said the situation exposes the weakness of BDS.
“Ben & Jerry’s extreme ideology has made them adopt a policy that leaves both Jews and Palestinians without a scoop. But it is actually a sign of the failure of the movement to boycott Israel, which can only score victories with consciously ‘woke’ companies. Indeed, Ben & Jerry’s is more anti-Israel than many Arab states, which are opening full economic relations with Israel.”
Several pro-Israel groups are urging their supporters to boycott the creators of Phish Food and Chunky Monkey, or at the very least let the company know they are opposed to the decision.
“This decision, pushed by BDS activists who are now stating that Ben & Jerry’s did not go far enough by not boycotting all of Israel, demonstrates that some who push these boycotts are not guided by concern over ‘disputed’ territory, but rather seek any excuse to demonize the State of Israel,” leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said in a statement.
“Given their fiduciary responsibilities, Unilever should consider the restrictions that exist in some states on pension fund investments and state purchasing” affecting companies that boycott Israel, the Conference said. “We call upon Unilever to override the decision of its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s.”
The Anti-Defamation League said it was “disappointed,” adding, “You can disagree with policies without feeding into dangerous campaigns that seek to undermine Israel.”
Mort Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, said “Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream’s anti-Semitic refusal to sell their high-fat, high-sugar, overpriced product to 800,000 Jews in Judea, Samaria, eastern Jerusalem only emboldens Jew-haters throughout the world and the terrorist groups of Hamas/Fatah/Iran. Their action will cause more Jewish deaths and injuries than their unhealthy ice-cream will.”
StandWithUs suggested emailing the company and telling them to “reject hate, reject BDS, and do what they can to uplift Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
Agudath Israel of America said late Wednesday that “we urge all states that have anti-BDS laws to apply those laws as appropriate in thie case. And we urge all states that have not as yet enacted anti-BDS laws to use this case as impetus to pass such legislation.”
The Palestinian Authority praised Ben & Jerry’s action as “legal” and “moral” and a “great gift to the Palestinian people on the occasion of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha.”
Despite its progressive politics, until now Ben & Jerry’s had been welcomed in Jewish homes, and its kashrut was so wide-reaching that its only-in-Israel flavors included Pesach-certified charoset and Matzah Crunch.
Ben & Jerry’s Jewish founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who grew up in Merrick, Long Island, no longer manage the brand.
On Long Island, the Town of Hempstead said that on Thursday it would make “a major announcement regarding the town’s position in regards to Ben and Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever, in an effort to reject acts of hate and economic hostility.”