‘I thought I was a free man’: the engineer fighting Texas’s ban on boycotting Israel

Rasmy Hassouna, a Palestinian American, is suing the state over a provision that bans him or his company from protesting Israel or its products


Rasmy Hassouna: ‘If I don’t want to buy anything at WalMart, who are you to tell me not to shop at WalMart?’ Photograph: Courtesy Rasmy Hassouna

Erum Salam, The Guardian, 7 Dec 2021

For more than two decades, Texan civil engineer Rasmy Hassouna was a contractor for the city of Houston. Hassouna has consulted the city on soil volatility in the nearby Gulf of Mexico – a much needed service to evaluate the structural stability of houses and other buildings.

He was gearing up to renew his government contract when a particular legal clause caught his eye: a provision that effectively banned him or his company, A&R Engineering and Testing, Inc, from ever protesting the nation of Israel or its products so long as his company was a partner with the city of Houston.

For Hassouna – a 59-year-old proud Palestinian American – it was a huge shock.

“I came here and thought I was a free man. It’s not anybody’s business what I do or what I say, as long as I’m not harming anybody,” he told the Guardian. “Were you lying all this time? If I don’t want to buy anything at WalMart, who are you to tell me not to shop at WalMart? Why do I have to pledge allegiance to a foreign country?”

But Hassouna’s reaction did not stop at anger. He took action, launching a case that is challenging the Texas law and – by example – similar provisions that have spread all over the US that seek to stop government contractors from boycotting Israel and can be found in more than 25 US states. Along with the Arkansas Times newspaper, A&R Engineering and Testing Inc is now one of only two companies fighting this kind of law in the nation.

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More Withdraw from the Miss Universe Pageant in Israel

Miss Universe Greece is not the only contestant who will be a no-show at the pageant which takes place in Eilat, Israel on 12 December. Contestants from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Laos have all bowed out of visiting the controversial venue. Barbados has also withdrawn, but cited COVID as the official reason…

Also, South Africa has withdrawn its support for Miss South Africa to attend, although so far she is refusing to withdraw. Nelson Mandela’s grandson has been prominently among those publicly urging a boycott, saying “nothing about Apartheid is beautiful”.

New York Times Op-ed on BDS



November 22, 2021

I’m writing to share some news: a few hours ago, The New York Times published an important op-ed by Alan Leveritt, a news publisher in Arkansas who is suing the state over its anti-boycott legislation.

Alan is also one of the protagonists of our new film, Boycott, and his article — “We’re a Small Arkansas Paper. Why Is the State Making Us Sign a Pledge About Israel?” — paints a vivid picture of the impact of legislation designed to silence voices of dissent on Israel-Palestine.

Alan is writing at a crucial time. His case is right now being reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, and he’s not optimistic that the ruling will go his way.

If it doesn’t, the case will likely end up at the Supreme Court, potentially impacting not just the right to boycott Israel for its human rights record — boycott being constitutionally protected under the First Amendment — but also our right to voice dissent on a whole range of issues.

We hope you’ll share Alan’s op-ed widely. Please forward this email or share the article on social media. We just had the world premiere of Boycott at DOC NYC last week. With Alan’s case awaiting a ruling, this is a crucial time to spread the word and raise awareness about the dangers of these laws, which, to date, have largely gone underreported.

With determination,

Suhad Babaa
Executive Director & President, Just Vision
Producer, Boycott

Tell Justin Bieber to Cancel his Performance in Apartheid Israel

Pop star Justin Bieber is scheduled to perform in Israel on October 13, 2022. Sign the petition to him asking him to heed the call from Palestinian civil society to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel. Tell him to support Palestinian human rights by cancelling his show. 

Dear Justin, 

We the undersigned appeal to you to cancel your planned October 13, 2022 performance in Tel Aviv Israel. 

According to Human Rights Watch, the most respected human rights organization in the world, and B’tselem, Israel’s largest human rights organization, Israel is practicing apartheid. From the river to the sea, Israel privileges one group of people (Jews) over another group of people (Palestinians) in order to maintain Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land. To achieve this, Israel dispossesses Palestinians from their lands, demolishes Palestinian homes, subjects Palestinians to checkpoints, child imprisonment, and numerous daily humiliations and violence. The separate and unequal system that Israel imposes on Palestinians is a daily nightmare.

This fall, Israel designated six Palestinian civil society human rights organizations as “terrorist” organizations. Israel has not been able to evidence that these groups are involved in terror but nevertheless, they are continuing to persecute the groups. Employees of the organizations have been spied on by Israel who implanted spyware on their phones without their knowledge or consent. 

In the West Bank, Israel has two sets of laws for two groups of people. Israeli settlers, who live illegally on Palestinian land and frequently carry out violent attacks, are subject to Israeli civilian law while Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law. Under Israeli military law, protest is illegal and children as young as 12 are arrested and denied their basic rights. Israel is the only country in the world with a juvenile military court and it is for Palestinian children only. 

In Gaza, due to the Israeli blockade, over 50% of the population is unemployed and essential goods, like medicines and fuel are in short supply. 97% of the water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption and electricity is usually only four hours a day at most. Palestinians in Gaza are unable to leave. It’s an open-air prison. 

When you released your album Justice, faced criticism for using samples of Dr. Martin Luther King in the album’s songs. You responded to the criticism by listening and learning and admitting that you “just didn’t know better” and you hadn’t received an education in Black history during your upbringing. “I want to keep growing and learning about just all social injustices and what it looks like for me to be better,” you said. We hope you learn about the crimes Israel commits against the Palestinian people and follow the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King to stand with the oppressed.

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August 16, 2021
Webinar on Ben & Jerry’s recent decision

We’re delighted to invite you to a timely webinar on Monday, August 16th, at 4:00 pm ET.

How did an ice cream company come to dominate the global discourse on Israel-Palestine? On July 19th, beloved ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would end sales of its ice cream in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The backlash from the Israeli government, from US elected officials and from right wing organizations was immediate and overwhelming, with calls for US governors to use anti-boycott laws to take legal action against Ben & Jerry’s for their decision.

Join Just Vision, Americans for Peace Now and Jewish Currents along with guests Ben Cohen (Founder, Ben & Jerry’s) and Anuradha Mittal (Board Chair, Ben & Jerry’s) in conversation with our Executive Director, Suhad Babaa; Jewish CurrentsEditor-at-Large, Peter Beinart; and President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, Hadar Susskind, to discuss this recent decision by Ben and Jerry’s and its far-reaching implications.

To register for this event, please click here. We hope to see you there.

With resolve,
Emma Alpert
Deputy Director, Just Vision

Speaker bios:

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Ben & Jerry’s vows to stop sales in Israeli West Bank settlements

‘This BDS win is because of our people power’

On Monday Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would stop selling ice cream in Israeli settlements. Israel has promised to fight the move “with all our might,” while activists say it is yet another sign of how BDS is entering the mainstream.


Boycott Ben & Jerry’s promotion by Vermonters for a Just Peace

MICHAEL ARRIA, Mondoweiss, JULY 19, 2021

On Monday Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would stop selling ice cream in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. The move comes after years of pressure from activists in the company’s home state of Vermont.

“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT),” reads a statement on the company’s website. “We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.”

“We have a longstanding partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region,” it continues. “We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year.”

The company also indicated that it would stay in Israel under a different arrangement and share details connected to that move soon. However, a statement put out by Ben & Jerry’s Independent Board of Directors claims that disclosure was made by its CEO Matthew McCarthy  and parent company Unilever without first consulting the board.

“The statement released by Ben & Jerry’s regarding its operation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (the OPT) does not reflect the position of the Independent Board, nor was it approved by the Independent Board,” reads a press release put out by board chair Anuradha Mittal. “By taking a position and publishing a statement without the approval of the Independent Board on an issue directly related to Ben & Jerry’s social mission and brand integrity, Unilever and its CEO at Ben & Jerry’s are in violation of the spirit and the letter of the Acquisition Agreement.”

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What the Ben & Jerry’s Decision Reveals About Israel

Backlash to the ice-cream maker’s decision to distinguish between Israel and the territories it occupies has shown that, for many Israelis, the distinction no longer exists.


Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty

Yasmeen Serhan, The Atlantic, JULY 23, 2021

No company does progressive politics quite like Ben & Jerry’s. The Vermont-based ice-cream maker has a reputation for corporate activism, owing to its support for a wide array of left-wing causes, including marriage equality, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter. But when the company announced this week that it will no longer sell its products in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, it faced an outcome that every ice-cream maker fears most: a meltdown.

The matter of Israel’s settlements, which the international community regards as illegal under international law but which the Trump administration said will need to be resolved through a political and not a judicial process, has long been a thorny issue in Israel. (The Biden administration has yet to articulate its own policy on this.) When it comes to ice cream, though, the country’s notoriously fractious political sphere is virtually unanimous. Israel’s right-wing prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said that Ben & Jerry’s has decided to brand itself as an “anti-Israel ice cream.” His centrist coalition partner, Yair Lapid, called the move a “shameful surrender to anti-Semitism.” Israeli President Isaac Herzog of the center-left, who once committed to removing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, called Ben & Jerry’s decision to shun them “a new kind of terrorism.” The newly minted opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, suggested that Israelis should boycott the brand. One centrist cabinet minister dutifully posted a TikTok of herself chucking a pint of what looked like Dulce de Leche into the trash.

That an ice-cream maker could cause such an uproar at the highest levels of Israeli politics says a lot about how sensitive Israel is to the very notion of boycotts against it—even those that, like Ben & Jerry’s, are limited in scope. More fundamentally, the dustup reveals a growing divergence between how the world sees Israel and how the country sees itself. While the international community, including the United States, continues to distinguish between Israel and the territories it occupies, the reaction to the Ben & Jerry’s decision has shown that, as far as many Israeli politicians are concerned, that distinction no longer exists.

On its face, Ben & Jerry’s move to end its business in the occupied territories, which the company described as being inconsistent with its values, poses an arguably negligible problem for Israel from a practical standpoint—one that would affect, at most, the roughly 6 percent of the population living in one of the country’s sprawling settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, both of which have been under Israeli control since 1967. Ben & Jerry’s has said that it will continue to sell its products in Israel itself. Both Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever, declined to comment further, but the implications of the move are clear: While Israeli citizens living in settlements such as Ariel and ​​Ma’ale Adumim may no longer be able to buy Chunky Monkey in their local supermarket, they can find it nearby. (The same cannot be said for Palestinians in the West Bank, who are not afforded the same right to freedom of movement.)

In other words, Ben & Jerry’s decision “has no material impact on Israel whatsoever,” Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israel-based pollster and political strategist, told me. But it does have a political one—and, to the Israelis who feel the need to defend their sovereignty, an existential one. By ending its business in the occupied territories, the company has effectively refused to profit from or legitimize the status quo in the region, a status quo that Israel is deeply invested in protecting. It has also made clear that it will recognize Israel only within its democratic borders. “It’s all symbolic,” Scheindlin said, “but symbolism is huge.”

Why does Israel care about what an American ice-cream brand thinks of its policies? When I put this question to Scheindlin, she told me that for many Israelis, criticism of Israeli policy is often conflated with an existential threat to Israel itself. To hear many Israeli politicians tell it, “criticism from abroad of our policies is anti-Israel, it’s anti-Zionist, and it’s anti-Jewish, or anti-Semitic,” Scheindlin said. “And that’s really the narrative that we’ve been hearing.” There is also the fear that what started with Ben & Jerry’s might not end there; once one company boycotts Israeli settlements, what’s to stop others from joining it?

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Israeli PM vows to ‘act aggressively’ over Ben & Jerry’s ban


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

Associated Press, July 20, 2021

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the head of Unilever on Tuesday that Israel will “act aggressively” against Ben & Jerry’s over the subsidiary’s decision to stop selling its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem.

British consumer goods conglomerate Unilever acquired the Vermont-based ice cream company in 2000. Ben & Jerry’s said in a statement on Monday that it had informed its longstanding licensee — responsible for manufacturing and distributing the ice cream in Israel — that it will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of 2022.

Bennett’s office said in a statement that he spoke with Unilever CEO Alan Jope about what he called Ben & Jerry’s “clearly anti-Israel step,” adding that the move would have “serious consequences, legal and otherwise, and that it will act aggressively against all boycott actions directed against its citizens.”

The announcement was one of the highest-profile company rebukes of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Most of the international community considers these settlements illegal under international law and an impediment to peace with the Palestinians.

Approximately 700,000 Israelis now live in settlements, around 500,000 in the occupied West Bank and 200,000 in east Jerusalem. Israel considers the entirety of Jerusalem its capital, while the Palestinians seek it as capital of a future state.

Ben & Jerry’s said in its announcement that the sale of its ice cream in territories sought by the Palestinians for an independent state was “inconsistent with our values.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry criticized the decision on Monday as “a surrender to ongoing and aggressive pressure from extreme anti-Israel groups” and said the company was cooperating with “economic terrorism.”

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